By Alan Gionet
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4)– “All you need to get lung cancer, are lungs,” said Anne Phillips. “I had exactly one symptom to get lung cancer, I had lungs.”
Anne is trying to raise awareness about how lung cancer is not just a disease among smokers; it can strike out of nowhere as it did her. Research is happening, but not fast enough. Money is needed.
“My life literally depends on the clinical trials that are going on now.”
Anne was hit by cancer out of the blue in May 2015. It was a seizure in front of her two children Matthew and Katherine. They were four and six at the time. She sent Katherine to the neighbor to get help.
The bad news started at the emergency room. Scans and an MRI showed a tumor in the brain. In fact, there were a series of them and the origin was lung cancer with one primary tumor in the upper left lobe. Within 24 hours she was in surgery to remove the largest tumor. Her cancer is known as non-small cell lung cancer with an EFGR mutation.
At first, she had to deal with going from a healthy person to a person with cancer. “I was in shock and full of anxiety for seven months. I was out of my mind for seven months.”
Doctors removed other brain tumors with a gamma knife. She takes pills as part of a targeted therapy. It means the targeted therapy known as a chemo pill goes after the cancer in its current form. But like all cancers, it’s a moving target trying to kill it. It has already mutated once, requiring a shift in the drug she takes.
“I am lucky to have common mutations that drugs exist for what I have.”
She gets scans every three months to see if it has mutated again.
“I don’t worry until there’s something to worry about.”
Anne is not one to sit still. She enjoyed Colorado with skiing and reading after arriving in 1996. Once a civil engineer, she had taken a break while her children, now 7 and 9, were young.
She had been thinking about going back to work as they got into school age. She’s been married to Ryan since 2006.
“The very first thing I was concerned about what keeping life normal for the kids,” she said.
When she was diagnosed, they were too young to understand. She is still getting them where they need to go. There are piano lessons and drum lessons. Ryan tried to keep things normal. They had planned to remodel their kitchen before she was became ill. He went ahead with the work.
“My husband demoed the whole kitchen while I lay on the couch. It was a great distraction,” said Anne.
At first, being ill with cancer was an enormous change, “I was getting used to ingesting medication that comes in a hazmat bag.”
She does not sit down and take her cancer lightly. Instead of seeking out the work she thought she might do with the kids in school, she has tried to share what she’s learned.
“I learned to meditate and be my own advocate.”
She met advocate Chris Draft who works to empower the victims of lung cancer to live healthy lifestyles. Anne tries to support research that may save her. She wants to see more early testing.
“There is hope that with a lot of testing, more people can be diagnosed.”
That might save lives in a disease that often presents itself late. Anne is surviving lung cancer every day. It hasn’t changed her by forcing its way into her life. It didn’t have much chance of that.
“I’m still me and I’m pretty much the same person I was before cancer.”
Anne is hoping people get involved in next year’s Super Bowl Challenge to help in the lung cancer fight: https://www.crowdrise.com/2018SuperBowlChallenge
She jokingly calls it, “my drug money.”
Alan Gionet has told the stories of people with cancer all through No Shave November as he tries to raise money and awareness about the disease. Here’s his No Shave November page: https://no-shave.org/member/agionet