In 2012, when I was 40 years old, a wife and mother of two amazing children, I was dshelly-engfer-triebenbach_with-two-survivors-at-pfizer-meetingiagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.  I resigned my position as a public school music teacher to go through treatment.

I initially tested negative for treatable mutations, so I started on traditional chemotherapy (carboplatin combined with docetaxel). After three rounds of chemo, my cancer progressed, so my chemo was switched to pemetrexed combined with bevacizumab. My biopsied tissue was sent to Foundation One for more detailed genomic testing. My results said I tested positive for the ALK rearrangement. This gene mutation was driving my lung cancer.

I elected to stay on chemo because my tumors were shrinking and the side effects were not too bad, but after twelve rounds my cancer began growing again. I started taking crizotinib, an oral drug that targets my ALK-driven lung cancer cells. I had some initial shrinkage, and then my cancer became stable. However, crizotinib does not get into the brain.  After nine months on the drug, I developed seven brain metastases (“mets”) and my primary tumor began growing again. I opted to forego brain radiation and instead entered a clinical trial for brigatinib.  Unlike crizotinib, this oral drug for ALK+ lung cancer gets into the brain. My primary tumor shrank 50%, and all but three brain mets disappeared. I am in my 21st month of the trial and my cancer is stable.

I feel good enough on brigatinib to go back to teaching music part time – something I never thought I’d be able to do.