Marina Wild is 40 and the mother of a 2-year-old daughter living with her partner in the beautiful West of Ireland.
She is also living with stage IV Lung Cancer.
Marina is supporting The Big Check Up 2023 to help the Marie Keating Foundation “Change how we see lung cancer”.
This is her story.
“One night in March 2018 I woke with acute chest pain. A few weeks later I was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Biomarker testing revealed a rearrangement of the ALK gene. ALK+ lung cancer accounts for around 5% of lung cancer cases and disproportionately affects young fit never-smokers like myself: I was 34.
Lung cancer is insidious; in most cases it is detected at an advanced stage. In addition, young patients often face misdiagnoses and delays, as their symptoms are dismissed. My only symptom was the chest pain that night, caused by the tumour burrowing into the pleura (there are no pain receptors inside the lungs, one of the reasons for the late onset or absence of symptoms). I am grateful my GP referred me for an X-ray – I was one of five patients she saw that day who presented with chest pain, a common and vague complaint and often harmless. If something doesn’t feel right, it is important to get it checked out, and I would advise people to insist on further tests if their doctor doesn’t instigate them.
Because I was stage IIIa, I wasn’t eligible for the targeted therapies (TKIs – tyrosine kinase inhibitors) available for certain mutations, and there was a very slim chance that it could still be cured, so I had chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a middle lobe resection – my doctors decided to try surgery, as I was young and healthy. My family in Germany had requested a second opinion, which approved the protocol. I also used complementary therapies and read everything I could find on the mind-body connection.
For nearly four years I had NED scans, and to our surprise I also became pregnant. I had had a missed miscarriage shortly before I was diagnosed, but our plans to start a family were the furthest thing from my mind after I heard the words ‘lung cancer’, and everything was so urgent, freezing eggs would have delayed the start of chemo. However, I received Zoladex injections during treatment to protect my ovaries, and we now have a healthy two-year-old girl. I am aware how lucky we are; most young female patients are stage IV at diagnosis, and a pregnancy is generally discouraged, as TKIs might be harmful to the foetus.
Our good luck continued with clear scans after the pregnancy. Unfortunately, the scans in July 2022 revealed a recurrence in four places, and I started oral targeted therapy that August. While I knew there was a very high risk of recurrence and nothing will equal the complete disbelief and horror I felt at the initial diagnosis, the news still came as a shock.
I have a great oncologist and team and assembled my own ‘team’ of healers and therapists, and I am doing well on Alectinib. Targeted therapy has extended the life expectancy of lung cancer patients significantly. Eventually the cancer will develop resistance to the drug, but there is another TKI for when that happens, which I pray will also work, and a new drug currently in a clinical trial. I might return to teaching art; my own art practice has played a bit part in my wellbeing.
This disease is a taboo for a lot of people, which compounds the isolation we feel as young lung cancer patients. I have some amazing support from family, friends and professionals, but we live within a culture that equates strength with suppression. Talking about it is not a sign of weakness. Targeted therapy enables me to live a seemingly normal life, but the flip side of this being an invisible disease is that others can forget that you are living from scan to scan and that due to fatigue and the enormity of it all you have different priorities.
Even though lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths, there is very little public awareness around it and it is stigmatised. Raising awareness of the fact that anyone with lungs can get lung cancer, including young never-smokers, might help shift the narrative. We need more publicity, more funding for further research and improved treatments and ultimately more life.”
Click here to learn the facts about lung cancer, its signs and symptoms and read other real stories and experiences. The Big Check Up 2023 from The Marie Keating Foundation