AJ Patel, lung cancer survivor
AJ Patel found himself facing Stage 4 lung cancer in 2013 when, after two years of nagging symptoms — a ragged hissing sound while breathing and, later, coughing up blood-tinged spit — a doctor found a tumor in his left lung. A CT scan taken later was worse: The growth was six centimeters wide and his right lung was pocked with tumors. “I was totally dazed and stunned,” said AJ, who was 47 when he got the news.
Weeks later, after researching his options for care, AJ found himself seated in the office of City of Hope oncologist Karen Reckamp, M.D., co-director of the Lung and Thoracic Oncology Program. After evaluating his case, Reckamp suggested a brain scan to determine if his tumors had spread. A few days later, she delivered sobering news: The scan had found two large tumors in his brain.
In the fall of 2013, AJ had surgery to remove the tumors in his brain. During that operation, doctors took a tiny swatch of tumor tissue to have it analyzed genetically. Reckamp and her team were looking for – and found – a genetic alteration called ROS-1.
“We have targeted therapy in the form of pills that can stop that tumor growth and in some, this control of the cancer can last for years,” said Reckamp. “The presence of a ROS-1 fusion dramatically changes the prognosis for a patient with lung cancer.”
Having the genetic alteration meant AJ could get treatment that blocked the activity of ROS-1. He started treatment in January of 2014 and, by the summer, his tumors had shrunk dramatically. “My six centimeter mass went down to less than one,” said AJ. “Today at age of 50 I’m living a phenomenal life. These last three years, believe it or not, have been the best years of my life, contrary to what I thought.”
That life includes cancer that is controlled and a new perspective that is less about possession — of big homes, money, cars and even people — and more about the moment.
“I’m not worried about tomorrow, seeing a doctor and wondering what my scan is because, if I am, it will steal the beauty of today from me,” he said.