In 2015, at the age of 47 and with no risk factors, Andrea Redway’s world was turned upside down by a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis. Not only did doctors find a tumour in her left lung, the cancer had also spread to her brain, adrenal glands, bones, and there were signs it had reached her colon as well.
Andrea endured a difficult two months full of chemotherapy and radiation treatments following her diagnosis. Then she heard of an innovative new immunotherapy treatment. That treatment ultimately saved her life. Innovative Medicines Canada (IMC) recently spoke with Andrea about her journey as a cancer patient.
IMC: Can you share your experience of being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer?
Andrea: In March of 2015, I left on a work trip to Asia. Three weeks after returning home, I felt exhausted and still had a cough that had started in January. I thought to myself “okay this isn’t just jet lag.” I thought maybe I had pneumonia so I visited a walk-in clinic and was prescribed antibiotics. Within a couple of weeks, I began to notice other concerning symptoms. It was at this time I received a referral to a family doctor and an x-ray was ordered. The results uncovered a large mass on my lung, and shortly after I received the diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer. I was in complete shock.
My first thought was my family. I knew I needed to seek treatment right away for the sake of my children and husband. I was referred to an oncologist at The Ottawa Hospital and began chemotherapy treatment, along with a small amount of radiation. Unfortunately, after six weeks of treatment, I took a scan that revealed the chemotherapy and radiation were only partially working.
Thankfully, my doctor at the hospital was aware of a new clinical trial that had been published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It was an immunotherapy treatment used to treat stage 4 lung cancer (and other cancers like melanoma), but it was not yet approved in Canada. My doctor immediately applied for the compassionate care program with the pharmaceutical company that offered the treatment, and I began getting doses of this innovative new treatment.
IMC: How did your life begin to change when you started this immunotherapy treatment?
Andrea:. My cancer was so aggressive, I had to pause my immunotherapy treatment after one dose because doctors discovered that I had a perforated bowel. I needed emergency surgery or that was going to be the end of the road for me. Given the stage of my cancer, it was unclear if surgery was even a viable option, however my care team at The Ottawa Hospital performed the surgery anyways and ended up saving my life.
About one month later, I was able to resume my immunotherapy treatment. A few months into my new treatment, I became more hopeful and felt more empowered. I continued with immunotherapy for about two years, and each day I gradually started feeling better, and a little bit stronger. I stopped treatment in September 2017 and have been doing well since.
IMC: Why is it critical that we increase access to these innovative medicines and treatments here in Canada?
Andrea: For someone like me, access to innovative medicines has made all the difference in the world. I wouldn’t be here today without it. I wouldn’t have gotten to live the last five-and-a-half years of my life with my family, and I wouldn’t have been able to continue making wonderful memories each day with them. My kids would have been growing up without a mother present in their lives. Having access to innovative medicines and treatments meant everything to my family.
IMC: Thank you for speaking with us Andrea, we really appreciate your time! Would you be able to share what you have been up to in the years following your treatment?
Andrea: Of course, after my final treatment in 2017 I became heavily involved in volunteer work. I currently volunteer with Lung Cancer Canada, the Canadian Cancer Survivors Network, and helped create a program at the Ottawa Hospital focused on improving lung cancer patients’ access to information and resources.
Over the last few years, I have also started a refugee sponsorship group with one of my neighbors. Together we are trying to do everything we can throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to keep growing this initiative.
In my family life, I continue to support my children by being the best mom I can be, and as a daughter continue to support and be there for my parents as they age.
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