More Than Just “Female Problems”

In May 2016, Amy Hollifield was 45 years old and having “female problems.” A visit to her gynecologist yielded a suggestion that she have a hysterectomy…and a prescription for an antidepressant. She didn’t know what it was, but she knew, with a deep, guttural sense, that something else was wrong.

The following several months were wrought with illness. Cold after cold. General malaise and weakness. Amy, a successful realtor, was so exhausted that she would, with some regularity, say she was at an appointment when, in reality, she was taking a desperately needed nap. The feeling that something was very wrong plagued her.

Amy was a smoker. Because her father and grandmother both died of lung cancer, she knew she had to quit. She recalls the day vividly.

“It was Thursday, March 9, 2017. I didn’t feel well and hadn’t for months. I dropped to my knees in my bedroom, sobbing, begging God to give me the strength to stop smoking.”

Too Young To Have Lung Cancer

That week, things went from bad to worse: First, she attended a ceremony during which she was to receive an award but was so weak and ill, she had to leave before accepting it. Then she would be diagnosed with pneumonia. By week’s end, she would cough up blood.

“The doctor told me that there was a mass in my chest. In hindsight, I think he knew that it was lung cancer but he told me that things were just not adding up. I was too young to have developed lung cancer from smoking. He (and later, others would agree) that lung cancer from smoking doesn’t show up until someone is in their 60s. He treated me for pneumonia, putting me on steroids for 6 weeks.”

When Amy returned for a follow up x-ray, the mass had grown. The pulmonologist corroborated what she’s been told before: this didn’t seem like lung cancer. Infected lymph nodes led to a bronchoscopy. Amy had Stage 3 Adenocarcinoma and was told she had 14 – 18 months to live.

Preparing for her Lung Cancer Treatment

Two days later, she and her partner, along with their five children, left for a long planned vacation. Not wanting to ruin what they were sure would be their last vacation together, they kept Amy’s diagnosis to themselves, waiting to tell the kids when they had a plan in place.

Once they arrived home, they met with an oncologist, came up with a treatment plan of 30 rounds of radiation along with 4 rounds of chemotherapy. By the end of September, she was finished. Scans in December showed that the radiation had worked, but the chemotherapy had not. The original cancer had not only spread with the left lung, but had migrated to the right side as well. A wedge biopsy confirmed that Amy’s cancer was now Stage 4.

Hope While Facing the Worst: EGFR Mutation Testing

The upside: Amy was now a candidate for EGFR mutation testing, which came back positive, allowing Amy to have targeted therapy. On April 26, 2018, Amy was NED (no evidence of disease). In July 2019, a new spot was discovered. She will have diagnostic scans in early 2020.

Not surprisingly, the stigma associated with having been a smoker has caused strife for Amy. However, given the fact that she was only 45 years old when she was diagnosed, and carries the EGFR mutation, several doctors have assured her that her form of lung cancer is not from smoking.

“I always felt like this was a weird blessing. I really believe that, if you have to live through a nightmare, this is the best case scenario. It’s a different place, but not a dark place. Sure, there is a thunderstorm behind me, but it’s not on top of me. And, truthfully, I don’t look back at this as a terrible time…it was almost a good time.”