At just 28 years old, Aurora Lucas was diagnosed with lung cancer. Like many, Aurora’s doctors disregarded lung cancer as a possibility because of her age. Lung cancer under 30? Unheard of!
Aurora is a special education teacher currently working toward her EdD. Ultimately, she learned that she had stage 3A lung cancer with the EGFR biomarker. She was a newlywed. It was August, 2021. She and her husband had just bought their first home. Given her very full plate, Aurora assumed, as would anyone, that the pains in her chest were attributable to stress. She conferred with her sister who is a nurse and they decided together it was not something that necessitated an emergency room visit.
A month later, the chest pain was accompanied by intense fatigue and a cough so bad that she often had trouble finishing a sentence. Her doctor’s advice: “Drink hot water with honey.”
“He dismissed every single symptom I had.”
Something Hazy in her Chest
Two weeks later, the chest pain, coughing, and fatigue had not let up. Paying credence to her instincts, Aurora went to the emergency room of her local hospital. She was admitted within two hours. She was told that imaging had found something within her heart and quickly diagnosed her with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome: essentially an extra electrical pathway in the heart causes a rapid heartbeat. While she was relieved to have some answers, Aurora had a nagging sense that there was more to the story. Following the diagnosis, she has a chest x-ray.
“There is something hazy in your chest.”
Aurora spent the following three days inpatient, held up by insurance issues which not only wouldn’t pay for further testing but was completely incommunicado: repeated calls and emails went unanswered. By the third day, the hospital had no choice but to discharge Aurora. She was still without an accurate diagnosis.
Lung Cancer Under 30? Isn’t that too Young?
Over the next two weeks, the severity of Aurora’s symptoms quickly escalated. Her fatigue was so bad that she would nearly fall asleep while driving to and from school. Her pain was becoming unmanageable, and her cough was uncontrollable. Feeling not only physically unwell but also unsafe, her husband drove her everywhere she needed to go. She returned to the emergency department at the hospital which had diagnosed her with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome.
“I begged them to admit me. I was still having all these issues with my insurance, but they finally agreed. Then, again because of the insurance issues, I couldn’t have a biopsy. It was October and I couldn’t change it until open enrollment in November. My sister is a nurse and did her best to use her knowledge of the medical system and work back channels. The doctors seemed unconcerned. They told me it was probably just an infection and that I was too young to have cancer. Then they discharged me.”
Lung Cancer Under 30 Complicated by Insurance Issues
A few weeks later, another trip to the emergency room. It was now November and Aurora’s insurance issues were settled. She underwent a lot of testing and a biopsy was performed. It would be ten days before she got the results: inconclusive due to insufficient sample material. Finally, she had a PET scan. With nothing but a gut feeling, she knew – from the look on the technician’s face – that something was very wrong. Aurora sent the imaging to her cousin who is a diagnostic medical sonographer.
“It was all lit up.”
Aurora did not even know what that meant – it was all lit up. No one had even told her she had lung cancer. Lung cancer under 30 is uncommon, but certainly possible. She was fortunate and grateful that there were many nurses in her family, all of whom swept in and told her the questions she needed to ask, the information she needed to gather, and the people she needed to be talking to.
Finally an Accurate Diagnosis and Treatment Plan
On December 1, 2021, Aurora found herself a new primary care physician and advocated for herself that she needed to be admitted. Thankfully, the doctor agreed, and got her in with the right people. Five days later, Aurora met with a thoracic specialist who not only admitted her but gave her a conclusive diagnosis: lung cancer with EGFR mutation. Lung cancer under 30. How can that happen?
Immediately Aurora and her team began discussing her treatment plan. Before they proceeded too far, he asked if she was hoping to have children someday. Answering in the affirmative, she had her eggs harvested ahead of any treatment.
The original suggested treatment plan called for 6 rounds of intravenous chemotherapy followed by 30 days of radiation. Aurora decided to go for a second opinion. This physician felt that two rounds of chemotherapy and 30 days of radiation would not only be just as effective but would cause fewer side effects. Aurora did well with the treatment and is currently taking one pill a day, for the next three years.
Lung Cancer Under 30 but Living a Normal Life
The results of her first post-treatment scans could not possibly have been any better. According to her doctor:
“Everything shrunk like ice melting under the sun.”
Aurora will continue to have scans every three months for the foreseeable future. She is feeling great, despite some mild (but manageable) fatigue. She is back to living a normal life and is thoroughly enjoying teaching remotely and working on her dissertation for her Ed.D.
“For about a year I didn’t reach out to any lung cancer groups. I even considered abandoning my graduate work, but the doctor encouraged me to hold onto one consistent thing to help me stay focused on something other than my diagnosis. It was the best thing to do – my north star! Now, I am excited to be on the LCFA Speaker’s Bureau and be there for other people.”
We are thrilled to have Aurora as a member of our Speaker’s Bureau. Being diagnosed with lung cancer under 30 years old was difficult. The LCFA Speakers Bureau provides a safe community of others who are living with lung cancer and can fully understand.
As a very young lung cancer patient, Aurora is using her voice to showcase the fact that lung cancer doesn’t only affect older people. She knows there are likely others diagnosed with lung cancer under 30. To reach them,
Aurora has taken her advocacy work to social media. Check her out on TikTok – @aurorainnalucas.
A Lung Cancer Research Advocate
This person is a member of our Speaker’s Bureau and an active advocate for lung cancer research.View Speaker Profile