It’s been five years since Lisa Goldman, lawyer turned fitness instructor, received her lung cancer diagnosis. She was in fantastic shape; teaching spin, pilates and various other classes in Silicon Valley when she developed a persistent cough. For some time, slowing down and coaching alongside (rather than along with) her classes enabled her to continue teaching. It was not long, however, before the coughing became so relentless that it impacted her ability to continue to teach, even with modifications.
In the fall of 2013, the coughing was bothersome enough that Lisa went to urgent care to be assessed. Because she was in such stellar shape, she, in her words, “appeared normal.” She was prescribed cough syrup with Codeine which “didn’t touch” her cough. Over the course of the next three months, Lisa would visit her doctor three more times and be given steroids and antibiotics, neither of which made a dent in her coughing.
“I wish I had asked more questions. They didn’t do simple tests. Now I know that they should have been checking oxygen levels and given me a CT scan.”
Not Just a Cough: Lisa’s Lung Cancer Diagnosis
Over the Christmas holiday break, Lisa and her two young children went to visit her parents. At this point, her coughing had become so intense that she was suffering from night sweats and fever. The coughing was so violent that she broke three ribs. X rays taken during a trip to the ER indicated possible pneumonia. The attending doctor discharged her, suggesting she have a CT scan once she returned home. It was a family friend/physician who encouraged Lisa to see a pulmonologist. Ten days later, 41-year-old Lisa Goldman was diagnosed with lung cancer.
By the time of her diagnosis, Lisa was in rough shape. Her lung had collapsed. Her vitals were nowhere near where they should be. Even though she walked into the hospital feeling okay, the cough notwithstanding, her disease was such that she spent the next week in ICU. Doctors administered her first round of chemotherapy immediately, while she was still inpatient.
Lisa counts herself very fortunate. Living in the heart of Silicon Valley, the hospital where she is a patient had a standard practice of sending out all biopsies for genomic testing. At the time, this was very cutting edge – and also likely saved her life. When her testing came back, it showed a positive result for the ROS1 marker. This combination of biomarker testing and lung cancer research enabled Lisa to be treated with a targeted therapy which, although touted as having an 18-month efficacy, has kept Lisa’s disease from progressing for over four years.
Living with Lung Cancer
Currently, Lisa is on oral medication, has labs once a month, scans every three. Although there have been a few hiccups along the way, Lisa is currently stable and with the exception of incessant doctor appointments, she is leading a busy life filled with carpooling, mom-ing and tons of advocacy work:
“I’m leading a pretty normal life…not the one I expected, but a good one. When I was first diagnosed I hated when people talked about the ‘gift’ of cancer. Now I think I am a better person and I do see the gift. I feel like I am in a place that I don’t regret that it happened…It’s been difficult, and I wish it would be magically curable now, but I am grateful for what I have learned and how I have grown.”