A Cat Scan Reveals the Unthinkable

After years of working as a bartender in Las Vegas, 38-year-old Lysa Buonanno decided to go back to college to train to be an x-ray technician. When her back started to bother her, the mother of two was annoyed, but not terribly concerned. She figured that the combination of moving patients at her internship and her frequent gym workouts were to blame. The pain was uncomfortable but manageable. Until it wasn’t.

“I went home to visit my family in Kentucky. While I was there I was in terrible pain. There are several medical people in my family, all of whom suggested various ways to help the pain. It was during the flight back home that I was in such agony that I called my mother in tears. Immediately after landing I headed directly to an urgent care facility.”

At urgent care, Lysa had a chest x-ray. Because she knew “enough to be dangerous” about x-ray imaging, she asked to see the films. One look and she knew something was wrong. The doctor concurred and sent her directly to the nearest emergency room. By the time she arrived, the pain was not only excruciating, but it was radiating, actually squeezing her diaphragm. In addition to having an MRI of both her spine and brain, she also underwent an EKG and a Cat Scan. The ER doctor came to her bed in the ER and, after instructing her mom to sit down, told Lysa,

“You have lung cancer. It has already spread to your spine.”

Fast Action to Slow Lysa’s Lung Cancer

Lysa was shocked. She was healthy. She had no risk factors associated with lung cancer. She was told she had to be admitted to the hospital right then and there because the tumors had wrapped around her spinal cord. The medical team feared permanent paralysis. Within the week, she would undergo surgery to remove a portion of vertebrae. This was followed by radiation and chemotherapy. Yet, despite all this, the disease continued to progress.

In Las Vegas, where Lysa lives, specialized medicine is harder to come by than in other parts of the country. It was through her own diligent research that she discovered that her progression could be caused by a genetic mutation.

18 months after an x-ray led to a lung cancer diagnosis, Lysa found a thoracic surgeon who was able to reach her tumor for testing (despite it’s tricky position). The pathology came back that Lysa’s lung cancer was ROS1, exciting news because it made her an excellent candidate for new targeted therapies. The first round of scans, taken three months after beginning targeted therapy, showed “significant” reduction. The next scan, three months after that, came back NED (no evidence of disease). From then, it was nearly five years before disease progression was discovered. In May, 2018, Lysa resumed chemotherapy and is currently stable.

Years After a Chest X-Ray Changed Everything, Lysa is Committed to Lung Cancer Advocacy

As is often the case, receiving a lung cancer diagnosis had a profound impact on Lysa’s perspective on life. A self-proclaimed lifelong Type A personality, she has traded in her need for structure and perfectionism for a more relaxed and carefree attitude.

“My favorite job has always been being a mom. I love that even more now.”

No story about Lysa would be complete without discussing her incredible commitment to lung cancer advocacy. Her first foray was on the local level – a walk at which she was asked to speak. It was then that she discovered her passion for not only sharing her story but doing (more than) her part in closing the gap in funding for lung cancer research. Her advocacy has taken her to Washington to lobby for more research dollars. She has traveled all over the country, working with big pharma sharing her story, including that of hope.

“I hope to make someone’s diagnosis just a little bit easier, let them know they are not alone.”

At LCFA we are particularly grateful to Lysa for her work on our Speaker’s Bureau as well as with our Hope with Answers program. Her courage to speak out and work tirelessly to assure more funds be allocated for lung cancer awareness and research is not only important but essential. For this story, she commented on how appreciative she is of us here at LCFA. No, Lysa, we are appreciative of you!