It was near the end of the school year when 40-year-old music teacher Shelly Engfer-Triebenbach found the short walk from her classroom to the school office left her exhausted and out of breath. Prompted by her colleague to seek treatment, Shelly scheduled an appointment with her doctor. She was diagnosed with pneumonia, prescribed antibiotics and an inhaler, and was instructed to return in a week for a follow up. Overnight, however, her symptoms worsened, prompting a sooner-than-planned return to the clinic.
As luck would have it, there happened to be a pulmonologist on-call. He ordered a chest x-ray which revealed the cause of Shelly’s shortness of breath – significant fluid around her heart. Immediately following the procedure to remove the fluid, Shelly was relieved to feel like herself again. A week later, however, she learned that the extracted fluid was rife with malignant cells. Shelly had Stage 4 non small cell lung cancer and was told that she had six months left to live. This mother of two young children was having none of it.
The value of getting a second opinion
A never-smoker and without a history of lung cancer in her family, Shelly was shocked by her diagnosis. By her own admission, she spent weeks in denial before finally springing into action.
When tests to determine if she carried either the ALK or EGFR biomarker came back negative, Shelly felt something was not right. Recognizing the value of getting a second opinion, Shelly sought out a second and then a third consultation. A full three months after her initial diagnosis, Shelly would learn that she was indeed ALK positive. She knew then that she had to stay strong and fiercely advocate for herself in the face of lung cancer.
It has been nearly six years since Shelly was told she had six months to live. After nine months of chemotherapy and two clinical trials, she shows no evidence of disease (NED) from the neck down, and is considered stable despite one metastasis in her brain. She credits her active lifestyle to a positive attitude and self-advocacy. Today, Shelly can usually be found riding motorcycles with her husband or playing golf and tennis with her teenage son and daughter.
“My priorities shifted. I had been very career oriented even working on moving from the role of teacher to administrator, but then I looked at my life and knew I wanted to spend more time with my kids. I replaced music conferences with lung cancer conferences. One thing I learned: if you are not at peace with your diagnosis or treatment, seek out other options.”
The value of getting a second opinion when dealing with lung cancer should never be underestimated. Shelly’s determination to advocate for herself throughout her journey with lung cancer inspires her family, her fellow lung cancer patients, and the larger LCFA community. Learn more about survivors like Shelly and living with lung cancer.