Cautiously Optimistic

Isabel Vincenty

Isabel (far right) with her daughter and husband.

By Isabel Vincenty

It’s been just over a year since the most devastating news of my life.

We were on the eve of a Hawaiian vacation when I felt a pain in my hip. I hoped that quick trip to the orthopedist for a cortisone shot would have me ready for my upcoming hikes and activities.

After a stint of back and forth X-rays, biopsies, and multiple doctor’s visits, we were finally informed of the diagnosis. It turned out that the pain in my hip was being caused by a tumor – one of three to be exact. Three alien infestations in my body that all pointed to Stage IV Metastatic Lung Cancer.

The devastation of hearing those words and trying to comprehend what they meant is indescribable. Overwhelmed by the news, I remember having an out of body experience as the oncologist explained the diagnosis and grim prognosis to me and my family.

It had to be a mistake. I’d never smoked a day in my life and up to that day (and continuing to today), have never had any symptoms that would have been indicative of something so damaging taking hold of my body. I, along with so many others, considered lung cancer to be a self inflicted illness, caused only by years of inhaling poison.

In my scramble for answers, I lived with a few weeks of mortifying internet dives expecting the worst, while I waited (very impatiently) for my doctor to continue to run tests. We finally received our first sign of optimistic news and a concrete direction for treatment. Through genetic testing, it was revealed that my cancer was caused by the EFGR gene mutation, which allowed for a much more targeted therapy specific to this mutation.

One year after being told I had a two year life expectancy, I find myself among the positive side of the Tarceva statistics. All of the satellite tumors in my bones have disappeared and the primary hub in my lung has continued to reduce in size as a result of Tarceva. My last trip to the oncologist revealed, through a PET scan, that he was ready to start radiation to eliminate what’s left of the initial lung tumor with hopes of NED (no evidence of disease) status after the treatment. I have started very intense radiation and am so hopeful for a successful outcome.

To this day, I remain cautiously optimistic. I chose not to think of myself as a cancer patient and have not let many in my life be privy to the news. I have found solace in the stories that I’ve read here, and hope that my own experience can bring education and encouragement to others seeking answers.


If you have questions or need support along your lung cancer journey, call us at 1-800-298-2436 or email  

Riding for a Cure


Barbara and a friend on a “bike run.”

By Barbara Tullio

In October 2012 I was in a car accident. While being treated for my injuries, I found out I had stage 3B adenocarcinoma lung cancer.

Despite my doctor telling me to head home and get my affairs in order, I’ve been in treatment for almost four years now. Two years ago, the cancer spread to my brain, but I keep fighting!

I actually called the girl that caused the accident and thanked her for saving my life.

I feel so blessed by the people I have met and the incredible healthcare team I have worked with.


Barbara doing what she loves most.

One thing that brings me great joy is riding my motorcycle. I am part of a motorcycle club that is full of other folks that love to ride as much as I do. At one of our meetings we decided to organize a ride, or what we call “a bike run,” to raise money for lung cancer research.

I want to do everything I can to help push us closer to a cure for this disease. I feel fortunate to have found Lung Cancer Alliance, who is helping me to do just that.

On September 25th in Philadelphia, PA I will ride my motorcycle, with my support team by my side, in the hope that our efforts will help those battling this disease and that future generations will not have to face what I have.

If you are interested in hosting a fundraiser in your town, we can help! Just contact us at

I Thought I Was Invincible


Roberta Willet_6.29.16

Roberta and her dog, Gracie.

By Roberta Willet

I have been a registered nurse for 30 years.  In those 30 years, I was exposed to every disease under the sun and never got sick.  I really thought I was invincible.

Four years ago, my husband and I were days away from moving from New York to a new home in New Jersey. I decided to get my annual doctor’s visit out of the way before the chaos of the move kicked in. I had a slight pain near my waist whenever I plugged something in, nothing major, but decided to address it with my doctor during that visit.

My doctor, who was also my employer, suggested an x-ray just to play it safe. The x-ray led to a CT scan which, to my shock and surprise, showed five nodules spread through my upper right lung. While still processing this news, a biopsy was scheduled and performed, resulting in a longer hospital stay due to my lung collapsing!

Because of the move, that could not be rescheduled, my husband and I ended up staying with friends in New York while going through this very scary process. We were still pinching ourselves…”Did that really happen?” “How it this possible?”

Roberta and her husband.

Roberta and her husband.

After going through six weeks of tests, reading frightening statistics and preparing myself for a short six months left of life, my uncle, a retired physician, suggested I go to a hospital in Philadelphia. The process was amazing, quickly organizing consultations with every doctor, nurse, physical therapist, nutritionist, naturopathic specialist they had employed.  A plan of action was designed for me and in less than a week I started chemotherapy.

I had an entire team fighting this battle with me.  After 18 chemo treatments (three weeks on and one week off) another scan revealed one small spot still on my lung. All five tumors otherwise were gone!

Cancer does not have to be a death sentence but you must take responsibility for your health.  You must be your own advocate, be partners with your medical team.  Ask lots of questions and do anything and everything you can to help your body defend itself against this horrible invasion.  Eat correctly, sleep well, and be physically active.  One of the most important things you can do for yourself is to think positive….. be optimistic.

I just celebrated my four years survival anniversary!  I am living a full life, I feel great.


If you have questions or need support along your lung cancer journey, call us at 1-800-298-2436 or email  





A Friend for Life

Leah and Kimberly at the Huskers' game.

Leah and Kimberly at the Huskers’ game.

Sunday, August 7th is Friendship Day, a day to say “thank you” to all those special people in your life you call a friend.  We sat down with two inspirational survivors who would have never met each other were it not for their lung cancer diagnosis.

Leah and Kimberly are both young moms in their 40’s, living in Nebraska. After their lung cancer diagnosis they both took action, becoming strong advocates for our cause. They met at an awareness event cheering on their favorite team, the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers. We got their take on the friendship and how it has changed their lives.

Why do you think you became such fast friends? 

L: We are both passionate about taking up the cause for lung cancer.  We are Husker fans.  We are both moms.  We both grew up in small towns.

K: Leah and I had an instant connection. It was perfect timing as I was really needing a lung cancer survivor connection that was my age and had similar life circumstances.

What does your friendship mean to you? 

L: Kimberly is the only other person in Nebraska that I am connected with who is passionate about the cause. That is invaluable! She has motivated me to step outside the local box and think bigger about how to take our cause higher, like going to D.C. in May for the Lung Cancer Summit.  I would never have done that without her encouraging me to go.

K: I am so thankful I met Leah. I look forward to continuing our friendship and working together to fight for a cure!

Leah and Kimberly ready to storm Capitol Hill at the 2016 Lung Cancer Summit.

Ready to storm Capitol Hill at the 2016 Lung Cancer Summit.

Is there a moment in your friendship that stands out to you?

L: When the two of us went “head to head” with one of our representatives in D.C., tag teaming and working together to drive home our point. It was amazing!!!

Have your friendships changed since your lung cancer diagnosis?

L: They only grow stronger!

K: I lost one of my closest friends, and to this day do not know why that happened. But I gained a few more valuable friendships I wouldn’t have had if it weren’t for lung cancer.

What advice would you give someone battling lung cancer? 

L: Keep a positive attitude!  Never stop seeking the best path for yourself; research, question and be informed about every decision.  Don’t be afraid to seek help.

K: Respect your family and friends and their feelings towards you. In the beginning, I put up a wall and didn’t allow all of my family and friends to be involved in my treatment. I kept them at arm’s length and tried to handle everything on my own.  I didn’t realize until it was almost too late that they needed me and I needed them. And BE YOUR OWN ADVOCATE!



The Power of One

By Kristin Bramell, Director of Philanthropy, Lung Cancer Alliance

ice bucket

We spend a lot of time encouraging people to be a part of a community, and to band together to create a powerful voice. Sometimes the most powerful voice can be just a single person, though, that creates change organically. The Power of One.

Malala Yousafzai brought the world into her living room to understand the perils of attaining simple education in Pakistan. Caitlyn Jenner made transgender issues common dinner conversation. And one man changed social fundraising forever with the dare to dump a bucket of ice over your head. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was an instant and powerful tool that dominated social media and ultimately raised $115 million in a single month for ALS Association–well over their normal $23 million annual budget. This grand total is more than the $102 million funded by the Lung Cancer Research program in the Department of Defense since 2009!

Within a week, an entire nation was discussing “What is ALS? Who is at risk? What are the symptoms? And what can I do to help?” The concept was simple—avoid the dare and pay up, or take the dare just for fun…and still pay up. Your $10 donation became $50 when you asked four friends, who continued the chain to reach tens, then hundreds, then thousands—and researchers swooned with the advancing opportunity to create systemic change for a debilitating and deadly disease.

It is realistic that only one person needs to be inspired to spark a movement, but it requires that one person to begin the conversation.

So what does this defining moment look like for lung cancer? When will the “a-ha” moment come that creates global awareness and passion for lung cancer, which has been so stigmatized for so long? Perhaps it’s with your powerful voice. Perhaps the next big idea will be yours.

Lung Cancer Alliance is so grateful for each and every dollar that you commit to our cause. As the highest rated lung cancer charity (by Charity Navigator), and the top 1% of all charities nationwide, we promise to continue our life-saving mission for all people living with a lung cancer diagnosis or at risk. I hope you will pledge to help us meet these immense needs too. Every gift counts, and moves the needle closer to a cure.

Click here to give to Lung Cancer Alliance.

Successfully Living with Cancer

Dawn at the 2016 Lung Love Run/Walk Portland in June.

Dawn at the 2016 Lung Love Run/Walk Portland in June.

By Dawn Horner

I have always loved running. It is tough, but in a way that leaves you feeling lifted, happy and challenged all at once.  I have run in several races over the years but the most difficult one was the Sauvie Island Half Marathon in 2007, 13.1 miles, that’s 52 laps around the track! It was on the 4th of July, temperatures were in the upper 90s and the race organizers ran out of water half way through. Just as I hit a wall about two miles before the finish line, an elderly lady breezed past me, so I focused on her to try and keep up. Finishing that race was a huge relief.

Seven years later, in August 2014, I was presented with a very different physical, emotional and mental challenge, stage IV lung cancer. I was 51 years old, healthy and active. The worst part was that it took 17 months of repeated doctor visits, two misread chest x-rays and a second opinion before my cancer was found.

Once I made it through the initial shock and deep anger and frustration towards the healthcare professionals that took so long to find a diagnosis, we had to tell our kids. Believe it or not, telling them was one of the hardest elements of the whole process. Two of our children were in college and the other was starting a career on the other side of the state, I didn’t want them to stop living their lives. Once we broke the news, our family pulled together and held each other up.

I was told by a very wise young doctor that when I was in treatment, I could talk about cancer but when I went home I should leave my cancer behind. That same person also advised me to think of stage IV lung cancer as a chronic illness rather than a terminal illness. This guidance has really helped me keep this whole thing in perspective and allowed me to continue living my life.

Dawn shared her story at this year's Lung Cancer Summit in Washington, DC.

Dawn shared her story at this year’s Lung Cancer Summit in Washington, DC.

Early on in this journey I spent hours doing research on the different types of alternative medicine that were available. I changed my diet completely, leaving out red meat, dairy, coffee, wine and white starches. As time went by I learned to relax and find moderation. I’ve added coffee, red wine and a little bit of dairy back into my diet and I’m still doing great.  I was also able to maintain my exercise routine of walking, hiking and low mileage slow running.  Not only has this helped strengthen my physical health, but even more importantly, my mental health.

The best advice I could give someone recently diagnosed is to take life one day at a time and to not worry about the future. Live your life as full as you can each day, give thanks and tell those who are close to you that you love them.

To me, being a survivor means I am successfully living with cancer; it is not the end all anymore. I’ve met many people who have been living with stage IV lung cancer for a lot longer than five years. I have found strength through my family and friends, as well as meeting others who are battling this same disease.

When I first started treatment it was sort of like the Sauvie Island Half Marathon. It was not easy, I had to work at it every day, but I kept hope and found support outside myself. I’m planning to walk another half marathon in 2017, I guess I should start training soon!

The Parents of LCA

Richard Heimler (top left) with his husband and children.

Richard Heimler (top left) with his husband and children.

Being a parent is not easy work, but it comes with some wonderful rewards. Sunday, July 24th is National Parent’s Day, so we asked the LCA moms and dads to tell us what it means to them to be a parent. Check it out! 

“Being a parent opens up an entire dimension of the meaning of love. It’s one thing to love your life partner, but quite another to love your children. My three girls bring  me profound joy and are the light of my life!”
-Emily Eyres, LCA Chief Operating Officer

“Living with cancer and raising children over the last twelve years is challenging. But my children are my faces of hope. They make me smile at times when I do not feel like smiling. I am thankful to be a parent everyday but especially on National Parent Day.”
-Richard Heimler, LCA Board Member

“When you have a baby you get past the tough no-sleep crying stage and into six or nine

Kristin Bramell and her kids.

Kristin Bramell and her kids.

months and you think ‘I wish I could stop time’ and live right in this moment forever. But then you realize as your child grows to a year or two years, and on and on, that each stage is better than the last, and there are just different and new wonderful things that you can love about this amazing person you call your son or daughter.”

-Kristin Bramell, LCA Director of Philanthropy

“It’s amazing how different my two kids are — they couldn’t be more opposite either in personality or interests.  My husband and I often marvel at how we could produce two such distinct individuals but love them both so much for who they are.”
-Jennifer King, PhD, LCA Director of Science and Research

“Being a dad has been a wonderful experience…interacting with them growing from babies to ornery or sweet grade schoolers to high schoolers to college students to adults to being

Edy (top right) with her daughters, son-in-laws and granddaughter.

Edy (top right) with her daughters, son-in-laws and granddaughter.

parents themselves has been an incomparable thrill!  Every one of them makes me beam with pride! Now we have grandchildren…the thrill continues!”
-Gregg Gibson, Acting Chair of LCA’s Board of Directors

“I am blessed with two daughters. I am so proud of the women they have become and enjoy our conversations, visits and bond more than I ever expected. We keep learning so much from each other.”
-Edy Whidden, LCA Chief Administrative Officer

I Am Hopeful – You Can Be Too

By Laurie Fenton Ambrose, President & CEO, Lung Cancer Alliance

You have probably heard the hopeful and aspiring words, “Cancer Moonshot” over these past few months.  And for good reason.

It is the first time since 1971, when President Richard Nixon declared  “War on Cancer”, that a national call to action has been launched to catalyze new scientific breakthroughs and galvanize innovative public – private partnerships to bring better treatments, access to care and ultimately cures to the cancer community.  President Barack Obama, in his final State of the Union Address, put Vice President Joe Biden, who lost his son Beau to brain cancer in 2015, in charge of this new national effort to “end cancer as we know it”.  President Obama made it clear that the goal of the Cancer Moonshot was to double the rate of progress toward a cure – in other words – cut in half the time it would take to make advances in cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care.

Under the auspices of the first-of-its-kind “Cancer Moonshot Task Force”, Vice President Biden has not wasted a moment in championing this endeavor.  He has traveled the country – and overseas – to engage our global community in this life-saving effort. He has brought together every federal agency that has a part to play in the fight against cancer, along with hundreds of private, philanthropic, industry, and academic sectors, including the patient advocacy community, to talk about how we can make the most of our federal funding, research and data, technology capabilities, targeted incentives, private sector efforts, and patient engagement initiatives to break down barriers and accelerate progress.

The collective determination by so many people – at so many levels – at this very moment – focused on defeating cancer — is clearly unprecedented and extraordinary.  But so is the fact that  nearly everyone has been touched by cancer in some way – which is why we cannot slow what has been unleashed.

I had the great privilege of participating in the Cancer Moonshot Summit, held at Howard University in Washington, DC, as part of a national day of action that included more than 260 events in communities across the US.  Over 350 researchers, oncologist and other care providers, data and technology experts, patients, families, and patient advocates participated in the dialogue.

The day began with a series of Cancer Moonshot Task Force announcements that featured initiatives highlighting new collaborations to advance the goals of the Task Force.  LCA is an advocacy partner on one and many others announced that day which have relevance for our community.

During the Summit I received a special invitation.  Lung Cancer Alliance was 1 of 20 organizations to meet specifically with Vice President Biden. This 1 ½ hour session allowed for a direct, robust and interactive discussion highlighting experiences, challenges, opportunities, and recommendations  for the Vice President and his team to consider in advancing new cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care strategies.  I spoke about the opportunity to link patient information, images and biomedical samples together among people being screened for lung cancer at early or pre-cancerous stages and how this could accelerate research.

It was a good day.  It was an important day.  Why?  Because this day gave fuel to the Cancer Moonshot engine – further strengthening the momentum to “end cancer as we know it”.

We have reached for the moon before and succeeded in landing on its surface. I believe we can again reach for the stars and succeed in unlocking the mystery of cancer – and improve health outcomes for us all.


Cancer Changed Me…For the Better

Oregon constituents, Ginny and Dann Wonser (you may remember from the recent blog "A Letter to Those Newly Diagnosed") visiting  Senator Wyden (OR) during the 2016 Lung Cancer Summit.

Oregon constituents, Ginny and Dann Wonser (you may remember from the recent blog “A Letter to Those Newly Diagnosed“) visiting Senator Wyden (OR) during the 2016 Lung Cancer Summit.

By Ginny Hicks

I’m not very good at remembering dates but September 30, 2014 is a date I will always remember. It’s the date I was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer. A surprising diagnosis considering that cancer does not run in my family, I’m not a smoker and I did not grow up in a home with second hand smoke. My husband and daughter were with me in the hospital when the oncologist, whom I had just met, gave me the news. I think we laughed and said, “You must be in the wrong room, have the wrong patient or the wrong file.” After all, I’m the one who enjoys exercise and eating healthy.

My oncologist did not have the wrong patient and I do have lung cancer. At first I felt like I was in a bad dream and I kept hoping I would wake up soon; that my life would be “normal” again. I went through all the stages of grief, mourning the loss of my life as I had known it. My greatest fear was becoming a burden to my family.

Fortunately, the stage of feeling sorry for myself did not last long. As an elementary teacher and principal for 34 years I thought of children I had known. Children who faced enormous challenges, like abuse, neglect and abandonment. These children were between the ages of 5-12. I had been living a good life and I had no room to feel sorry for myself.

I started chemo one month later, the day before my 59th birthday. For six months I went in for treatment every three weeks. My first scans showed the spot on my right middle lobe was smaller, the cancer was gone from my sternum lymph nodes and the lymph nodes under my left arm were still enlarged. I continued on maintenance chemo every three weeks, with scans showing the ebb and flow of cancer. It’s difficult to understand how I can be so sick when I feel so good (excluding a few days after chemo).

Ginny with her grandson, Hudson.

I joined the Lung Cancer Alliance to learn as much as I could about cancer. I became a Phone Buddy which brought me great joy and satisfaction. My Buddy helped me as much as I helped her. It was heartbreaking when my Phone Buddy friend died this spring. I think of her often and miss talking with her.

I see a counselor who helps me navigate the ups and downs of the cancer journey. I attend a support group, eat healthy foods, take supplements, state positive affirmations and exercise. I walk and jog and go to the gym when time permits. I have always felt better when I exercise.

Earlier this year I arrived at the conclusion that I would no longer fight cancer. I have cancer. It is part of who I am. I will most likely always have cancer but it does not define me. Fighting cancer gave cancer too much power and influence over my life. Instead, I decided to focus on living the best possible life I could imagine.  A life full of joy and happiness with anticipation of good things to come. Sure, some days are easier than others.

I am a new grandmother and my grandson is the best medicine ever. I work at staying positive, making mental lists of all I have to be thankful for and wake up each day glad to be alive. Cancer changed me…for the better.

I recently returned from the National Lung Cancer Summit in Washington, DC. It was an amazing experience, one I enjoyed very much. I met strong, positive, capable people with stage 4 lung cancer. I gained strength and momentum from them and only hope I can be as brave and courageous as they are.

I wish us all well on our journey.

For more inspiring survivor stories check out our Facebook page.

What July 4th Means to a US Major General

Fireworks of various colors bursting against a black background

By Rick Sherlock, Lung Cancer Alliance Board Member and retired Major General, US Army

As a retired Soldier, I like to pause as we approach each July 4th holiday, think about what it means, and remember it as more than another wonderful day to spend with family and friends at a barbecue or watching fireworks.

General Rick Sherlock

General Rick Sherlock

We became a nation because of the strength of our founding fathers and the citizen soldiers that dreamed of and fought for our independence.  This year, on the 240th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence, we have the greatest military forces in the world.  They are an all-volunteer force who, along with our nation’s police, fire, and emergency medical services personnel, protects our nation, our Constitution, and our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Those Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and dedicated public servants continue to dedicate themselves to protecting the freedoms we may sometimes take for granted.

If you have an opportunity, please thank them for their continued service and for the blessings of Liberty we all enjoy.