By Kelly Werthmann
AURORA, Colo. (CBS4)– Ellen Smith is an unlikely survivor.
“They gave me basically six to nine months [to live],” she said.
In 2008, Ellen wen to the hospital with a bad cough. She thought she had pneumonia, but doctors determined she actually had Stage 3 lung cancer.
“I was in absolute shock,” Ellen told CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann of her diagnosis. “I never smoked.”
Each year, more people die of lung cancer than from colon, breast and prostate cancers combined, according to the American Cancer Society. Most people diagnosed with the disease often do not survive five years.
Ten years after her diagnosis, Ellen continues to beat the odds.
“I am truly blessed. It’s amazing how well you can breathe with just one lung at this altitude!” she said with a big smile.
Ellen said faith and family have helped her through her tough battle, especially when she had to have her left lung removed. She gives UCHealth, the University of Colorado Hospital all the credit, though, for saving her life.
“They have so many options and therefore can really give you hope,” Ellen said of the treatments she received at the hospital. “I take three little white tablets every morning and that’s it. No infusions.”
When chemotherapy was not working for Ellen, her oncologist told her of some clinical trials she could try. With a brave and hopeful “yes,” the 69-year-old grandmother of 10 became among the first patients in the world to receive certain treatments.
“We have changed the standard of care through people like Ellen,” said Dr. Ross Camidge, Director of Thoracic Oncology at UCH.
Along with treating Ellen and many other lung cancer patients from around the world, Dr. Camidge is also a researcher for the University of Colorado Cancer Center. He said the program is making great strides in developing treatments for the often fatal disease, thanks to their team of dedicated scientists, doctors and clinical trials.
“We’re coming up with ideas to control this disease and turn it into a longer term condition that is a life sentence, not a death sentence,” he said.
The success of the lung cancer program was evident Wednesday evening during a special event for patients. Men and women who have survived the disease five years or more, like Ellen, came together to celebrate their rare victory.
“I want people to see that hope has a face and family and friends and that it’s a reality,” Dr. Camidge said. “Nobody’s promising that this can be delivered to everybody, but it’s possible.”
And Ellen’s smiling face shows it truly is possible to survive lung cancer and thrive.
“You have to stay positive,” she said of other patients. “Stay strong and realize that there’s some good possibilities out there for you.”
Kelly Werthmann joined the CBS4 team as the morning reporter in 2012. After serving as weekend morning anchor, Kelly is now Covering Colorado First for CBS4 News at 10. Connect with Kelly on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @KellyCBS4.