Proud to have co-authored this print article about expert patient contributions as educators, advocates, and research partners! Thanks to Collaboration for Outcomes using Social Media in Oncology (COSMO) for the opportunity.
The International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) offers webinars, training and networking opportunities to lung cancer research advocates through its Supportive Training for Advocates in Research and Science (STARS) program. Thank you to our STARS partner Research Advocacy Network and our 2022 STARS sponsors Lilly, Bayer, BMS, and Genentech for supporting this event!
Today marks 11 years since I was first diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.
Eleven years with the mostly deadly cancer. Imagine that!
When I was diagnosed, my life expectancy was 2 years on the outside, and that was higher than the average because I was relatively young and otherwise healthy. The majority of lung cancer patients died within a year of diagnosis.
Thanks to online patient communities, targeted therapies, biomarker testing, clinical trials, and dedicated clinicians like Dr. Ross Camidge, whose smiling face appears next to mine in this picture, I’m still here. These things, along with additional new treatments like immunotherapy, new biomarkers, lung cancer screening, and ongoing medical research are changing the face of lung cancer. The expected survival of advanced lung cancer patients has risen by several YEARS since I was diagnosed.
Today, I’m grateful. Grateful for the medical research and treatments that have kept me alive with a good quality of life. Grateful for the additional time I’ve had with my family and this amazing universe. Grateful for finding a new purpose as a lung cancer research advocate collaborating on The ROS1ders, IASLC Supportive Training for Advocates on Research and Science (STARS), and other projects. And especially, I’m grateful for the wonderful friends and colleagues I’ve met along the way.
My prayer is that someday ALL people will have ready access to effective treatments and compassionate care for their health conditions, no matter what they look like, where they live, how much money they have, or how others believe they should be treated.
GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer (with the support of the entire lung cancer community) has submitted an appropriations request of $60M in the FY23 Defense Appropriations Bill with a goal to increase funding for the Department of Defense Lung Cancer Research Program (DOD LCRP) to $60M from its current $20M. The entire lung cancer community is joining forces to make it happen!
It takes only a couple of minutes to make your voice heard. But when all our voices join together, it becomes a ROAR.
Please click the link below and follow the instructions to tell your US Senator & Representatives to support $60 million for federal lung cancer research in 2023. Tell your friends & family. Please share widely on all your social media platforms.
HURRY! The House letter deadline is April 26 and Senate letter deadline is May 12, so don’t wait.
In May 2011—over 10 years ago–I was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. At that time, chemo and radiation were the only approved first line treatments for advanced or metastatic lung cancer. Despite undergoing chemo and radiation (twice), my cancer spread to my other lung and became metastatic. I was not inspired by the five-year survival rate for metastatic lung cancer patients back then—it was around 2%.
However, in early 2011 a small clinical trial for a targeted therapy pill called crizotinib (trade name Xalkori) had begun for ROS1 positive (ROS1+) lung cancer. This cancer is driven by an acquired alteration in the ROS1 gene. This pill that sounded like an alien seemed to inhibit ROS1+ cancer in about 80% of people in the trial. That was amazingly effective for a cancer drug!
In the fall of 2012, I arranged to have my tumor tissue tested and discovered my cancer was ROS1+. I mentioned the clinical trial option to my oncologist, and he recommended I join the trial (even though it required travel) because the preliminary trial results looked promising. All he could offer me otherwise was a lifetime on a chemo that didn’t make me feel much like living.
I enrolled in the trial in Denver, Colorado—over 1000 away from home—on November 6, 2012, and hoped for the best.
I’m still here thanks to research. Today marks 9 years since I took my first crizotinib pill. I have had No Evidence of Disease (meaning no cancer shows up on any scans) ever since. Although I’m incredibly grateful to be alive and have a relatively normal life with tolerable side effects, I’m always looking over my shoulder. No one can tell me if I’m cured, because few others have been on the drug this long. Most patients find their cancer eventually becomes resistant to crizotinib and their cancer resumes growing. The population of ROS1+ patients is relatively small (only 1-2% of lung cancer patients have ROS1+ cancer), so research on our type of cancer is sparse. We have some clinical trials in process, but no second line targeted therapy has yet been shown effective enough to obtain any government approval.
That’s why Lisa Goldman, Tori Tomalia (may she rest in peace) and I–all people who had ROS1+ lung cancer–decided to do something about it. In the spring of 2015 we created a Facebook group for patients and caregivers dealing with ROS1+ cancer, and eventually formed a nonprofit known as The ROS1ders. Our mission is to improve outcomes for all ROS1+ cancers through community, education, and research. We have almost 800 members spanning 30+ countries, and are considered experts in our disease by some of the top oncologists in the world. We’ve already helped create new models of ROS1 cancer that researchers have used in published research.
We’re now planning a research roundtable in December to explore ways to collect real-world data on ROS1+ cancers, and will be hosting a ROS1 Shark Tank event next spring that will award two $50,000 seed grants for new ROS1 projects. We’re aiming to raise $100,000 this year to fund our work.
Cancer research advocacy is my passion. I’m able to use my skills and time to help make a difference for hundreds of other people living with ROS1+ cancers. It’s a purpose that keeps me going despite the ever-present specter of potential recurrence.
I know there are many worthy charities asking for money this time of year. Any small amount you can give will help accelerate research for hundreds of ROS1ders worldwide who, like me, are dying for more treatment options.
Are interested in discussing an ASCO poster with a lung cancer scientist?
The IASLC STARS program, KRAS Kickers, and LUNGevity have partnered with GRASP (Guiding Researchers and Advocates to Scientific Partnerships) to offer lung cancer poster reviews at ASCO 2021. GRASP is a grass-roots advocacy effort that started in the breast cancer community.
In the GRASP format, a scientist discusses posters with a small group of patient advocates and an experienced research advocate. Virtual GRASP sessions will take place the week after the official ASCO meeting with six different sessions over the course of two days.
To take advantage of this opportunity for the 2021 ASCO Annual Meeting, please join GRASP (it’s free!) and then go to GRASP advocate registration to register one of the five lung cancer poster sessions on selected topics. Please also consider signing up for one of the optional GRASP training sessions (May 26 and 27).
If you have any questions, please contact Julia Maues firstname.lastname@example.org, patient advocate and cofounder of GRASP.
We look forward to seeing you at a poster session!
Remember, the IASLC STARS Program is accepting applications for 2021 Patient Research Advocates through May 10! STARS aims to help lung cancer patient advocates evolve into research advocates. https://www.iaslc.org/patient-advocacy/stars
I first “met” my friend Tori Tomalia in an online lung cancer community in 2013. A gifted writer, she already had a well-established blog that was funny, informative, and poignant. I admired the way she sculpted words to show how life continued despite all the downsides that accompany a deadly disease.
Tori was diagnosed with ROS1+ lung cancer about a year after me. We formed a connection through blogging and shared lung cancer advocacy activities, such as promoting #LCSM (Lung Cancer Social Media) Chat on Twitter. Her blog explored areas of life that I would never know: how to tell your young child you have a deadly cancer, how to make memories with the kids when you feel like crap. Her lung cancer journey was much different than mine. She had recurring brain mets that required radiation and sometimes brain surgery. While my clinical trial drug gave me years of no evidence of disease, for her it caused constant nausea. Clinical trial drugs failed her quickly. Yet her blogs and social media posts, though honest and at times raw, often found something positive to share, even if it was that she was still alive. Tori embraced life.
The first time Tori and I met in person was when five ROS1+ cancer patients found each other in a bar at LUNGevity Hope Summit in April 2015—a gathering that sparked the creation of The ROS1ders. I don’t remember much of that whirlwind weekend in Washington DC, but I clearly remember chatting with her on the bus coming back from the awesome Saturday dinner at a historic carriage house. Her quiet confidence inspired me. As I got to know her, I learned about her fierce inner advocate, ability to get the job done, and devotion to family. I also learned we shared a love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Shortly after that event, Tori set up the private Facebook group that became the focus of The ROS1ders. She was often the first person with whom new members interacted; she had a gift for making them feel welcomed and hopeful through a computer screen. As we worked together, Tori often brought sparks of insight and inspiration to our discussions. She coined our name “The ROS1ders,” revised posts to make them understandable to a greater number of people, and frequently provided a reasoned, compassionate alternate viewpoint. One time when we needed a post to describe using mice to study our cancer, I asked Tori if she would write it. She was nervous about it, pointing out that she and I had different writing styles (I tended towards science geek, while she tended towards improv comedy). I told her different styles kept things interesting, and I knew I’d like whatever she wrote. When the blog was posted, I actually laughed with delight at her chosen title: “The ROS1ders meet the rodents.” (You were wondering why the title referenced rodents? Now you know.)
I think The ROS1ders have succeeded as much as they have because of the indescribable bond that the cofounders Tori, Lisa Goldman, and I shared. We never had a fight. We just talked things through. I feel blessed to have experienced this magic.
I was thrilled in 2018 when Tori and I discovered our clinical trial visits to the University of Colorado in Denver would be happening at the same time! I eagerly waited in the DIA terminal for her flight to arrive. As she came off the elevator, she gave me a big smile, and I smiled in return at her awesome high-top red-sequined sneakers (reimagining Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz). I played chauffeur for her that trip, and helped her navigate the CU campus as she went through all the tests and procedures required to enroll in the trial. We connected on a few more trips after that, including one where she accompanied me to the offices of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer and helped with early planning for the STARS program (which she named). Eventually Tori was able to move her clinical trial participation closer to home in Michigan. We didn’t see each other in Denver again.
My last meeting with Tori was in New York City in May 2019, when The ROS1ders were finalists for a precision medicine award. Tori and I wandered around NYC near our hotel looking for a mutually agreeable take-out restaurant. Later, we connected with Lisa Goldman and another ROS1der, Jess Wittebort, in the park outside the NY Public Library (where the event was held). We talked about life, death, and everything in between. We could talk about anything. It was a wonderful evening.
Tori did everything she could to stay in this world and share the adventure of living with her beloved husband, children, and extended family. In the end, the weariness of years dealing with treatments and side effects wears one down. I hope this story helps her children see the side of Tori that was so dedicated to helping others live better and longer despite ROS1+ cancer.
Zander, Mikaela, and Autumn: Your mama is amazing. She made a difference to hundreds of people. Thanks for sharing her with the lung cancer community.
The US FDA is hosting a listening session to gather patient perspectives on￼ oncogene-driven lung cancer. Representatives from several biomarker patient groups will speak; I will be speaking on behalf of The ROS1ders. Representatives from the FDA will share ways they are addressing the concerns raised by the patients.
The COVID-Lung Cancer Consortium (CLCC) is a global forum comprised of experts in thoracic oncology, virology, immunology, and vaccines, in addition to representatives of patient advocacy, government, and professional organizations. They meet every other week to address issues and explore research at the intersection of COVID-19 and lung cancer.
CLCC has drafted a statement about the importance of prioritizing cancer patients for vaccination against COVID-19. Its language has been enthusiastically endorsed by leading clinicans and scientists. We hope it will encourage vaccine prioritization of patients with cancer–especially patients with lung cancer–so that vaccine doses will be made available for them should they CHOOSE to be vaccinated (after discussing risks and benefits for their individual case with their healthcare provider).
CLCC Statement Regarding COVID-19 Vaccinations for Cancer Patients
Individuals with several clinical features and co-morbid conditions, including cancer, are at increased risk of severe COVID-19 disease. Of particular concern, patients with lung cancer have increased mortality rates of ~32% from COVID-19 infection, which calls for specific prevention measures. Currently, individual states have varying plans regarding prioritization of these high-risk patient populations for vaccination, with some states recommending cancer patients be vaccinated early while other states place these patients farther down the priority list. The COVID- Lung Cancer Consortium (CLCC) meets on a regular basis to monitor ongoing impacts of the pandemic on patients with lung cancer and is comprised of a global assembly of thought leaders in thoracic oncology, virology, immunology, vaccines and patient advocacy. CLCC recommends that state-level policies for vaccine administration should strongly consider a high priority for vaccination of all cancer patients and especially lung cancer patients. Thus, as more vaccine doses are made available, these patients will have early access should they choose to be vaccinated after discussion with their healthcare providers of the associated risks and benefits. Clearly, we still do not yet have enough information about the effectiveness and any additional side effects of such vaccines in cancer patients depending on their cancer type, stage, treatments, and other medical conditions. As such key information becomes available, like that from current NCI sponsored research, adjusted recommendations based on scientific knowledge can be made. Currently, the CLCC recommends specific attention to this vulnerable population(s) and close follow-up of these individuals to ensure the vaccine is effective and there are no unexpected adverse events.