Stage 4 lung cancer metastasized to her brain, but immunotherapy offers Nancy Nacu-Wistow hope.
Nancy Nacu-Wistow had lost her mother and decided it was time to stop putting off the needed healthcare appointments such as a mammogram, wellness visit and an eye exam. While making an appointment online, she saw an advertisement for the lung cancer screening program. Although it had been 13 years since she quit smoking and she was asymptomatic (meaning she was not experiencing any symptoms associated with lung cancer), she wanted to see if she had done any damage to her lungs. Within three days, Nancy would read her online chart and find that she had stage 3 lung cancer. After imaging tests were done, the diagnosis would be changed to stage 4 — the cancer had metastasized to her brain.
“The only reason I got screened was because it was free, covered by health insurance” says Nancy, who had been working at Henry Ford as a facilities manager for 47 years and had recently earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Because of the stage and location of the non-small cell lung cancer, Nancy was not a good candidate for surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. However, medical oncologist Igor Rybkin, M.D., Ph.D., enrolled Nancy in a clinical trial. The trial was discontinued but Dr. Rybkin then ordered a different treatment only involving the immunotherapy drug Keytruda. Nancy immediately started responding to the treatment, currently, the tumors are shrinking!
“Nancy has had a complete response to the tumors in her brain, and she has had a near complete response to the tumors in her lungs,” says Dr. Rybkin.
Keytruda, the immunotherapy drug, was administered through infusion to her vein, similar to how chemotherapy is administered. “This immunotherapy drug enables the immune system of the patient to recognize and destroy cancer cells which were previously “invisible” to the immune system,” says Dr. Rybkin.
“It’s important to note that immunotherapy dramatically changed cancer patients’ outcomes over the past 7 – 9 years across many cancer types. However, we are still far away from the ability to treat every patient successfully. Nancy’s participation in this important trial has thankfully benefited her clinically, but has also benefited all of us with one more critical piece in the puzzle of progress towards a cure,” states Dr. Rybkin
Lung Cancer Screening Program
Lung cancer screening has shown that we can detect cancer much earlier in people most at risk.
“You go through what you have to go through,” says Nancy. “I did it for my kids because they had been devastated by my diagnosis.” Having lost their father already to cancer, Nany was determined to beat the odds for her kids.
Having the support of family and friends has kept Nancy going. “I watched my mom deal with health issues, and she set the tone for ways to be graceful and thankful,” says Nancy. “My mom used to say, ‘You can’t worry about things if you don’t have any control over them.’”
“I’m so grateful for everyone at Henry Ford, and I love Dr. Rybkin and his physician’s assistant Rachelle Wright,” says Nancy. “I’m overwhelmed by the treatment I’ve received at Henry Ford. Every single person that I have encountered has been compassionate and caring, even though the lung cancer was caused by a highly addictive habit. I felt very, very safe there. If I didn’t go for that scan, I’d be dead.”
“Even though this disease is with me all the time, I’m still out walking, gardening and doing everything possible to stay normal,” she says. To counter any low moods, she tries to keep busy. “Doing nothing is not an option.”
Having received loads of kindness, Nancy’s ready to play it forward. “I feel like I owe it to the people who have been caring for me to be the best I can be. That’s what pushes me,” says Nancy. “It would be easy to go into a shell. But too many people have put effort to me, and I feel I owe them.”
Nancy has a message for others facing a dire diagnosis: “It is difficult to accept help,” she says. “If people want to help, let them help! I did not want to be a burden, but when you are not well and feeling weak and cannot do it yourself, not accepting help did not help me get better,” she adds. “I am grateful I have people in my life that wouldn’t let me say no,”
Now when Nancy goes to Henry Ford for Keytruda treatments, she sees many patients who are very sick. She says, “I was there once, but now I’m feeling good. As long as I’m in treatment, I’m moving in the right direction.”
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