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Biomarker testing story

Jessica was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer and learned she was ALK-positive.
Canby, OR

We asked Jessica to share her story with Pfizer

We asked Jessica to share her story with Pfizer

I am Jessica, a single mother of two boys in Canby, Oregon and a criminal justice instructor at a local community college. I also teach college-level classes at a correctional facility and am actively involved in a number of lung cancer advocacy groups and activities. Recently, I was elected to the board of the Caring Ambassadors Program, a lung cancer patient support organization.

As a young mother who had never smoked and led a relatively active and healthy lifestyle, I was surprised to learn of my diagnosis of Stage 1 localized non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). After my diagnosis, I met with my oncologist who determined that I was a candidate to have my tumor tissue tested for molecular biomarkers. My tumor tissue was sent to a pathology lab to be tested, but the results didn’t return positive for potential biomarkers.

After going through surgery to remove a portion of my lung, the cancer was determined to be more advanced than originally believed. I began treatment on chemotherapy as well as chest radiation therapy. Determined to know the cause of my lung cancer, I participated in a study that tested for multiple molecular biomarkers, but these tests also returned negative. Throughout this process, I developed a great relationship with my oncologist, who was receptive to having an open dialogue about my treatment options.

About one year into my treatment on chemotherapy, my lung cancer was still progressing, and had spread to my brain. As I was no longer eligible for a clinical trial program due to the way my tumors spread, the results of my biomarker test were released to my doctor. This time the results returned positive for a specific biomarker, ALK, which is present in about 3-5 percent of NSCLC tumors.1

After my lung cancer biomarker was discovered, I was able to begin treatment with an approved therapy for my specific type of lung cancer. These days, I continue to pursue my career goals and take joy in spending time with family and friends. More importantly, I am raising my two sons, and feel empowered to be a positive support system to them.

Recently, my doctor discovered that the cancer has spread again to my brain, but I was able to join a clinical trial based on my tumor’s biomarker. Although I have faced challenges in my experience with lung cancer, my treatment journey is a testament to the growing research in biomarker-driven lung cancer medicines.

Because of my experience, I’m committed to spreading the word on the importance of molecular testing. Through my lung cancer advocacy work, such as lobbying our state government, hosting vigils, participating in awareness walks and sharing my story with others, I’ve been able to share what I’ve learned about molecular testing. I encourage lung cancer patients to discuss molecular testing with their doctors and seek out information provided by lung cancer advocacy groups.

November 2014

1. Garber K. ALK, lung cancer, and personalized therapy: portent of the future? J Natl Cancer Inst. 2010;102:672-675.