Eric, a 55-year-old man from Brentwood, Tenn., was under immense professional stress in the fall of 2018 so when he started to feel fatigued with pain in his right shoulder, he immediately attributed it to the extra stress in his life.
While traveling for work in Istanbul, Turkey, Eric began experiencing pain in his right shoulder and by the time he returned to the States, the pain was too intense to ignore. Eric underwent an MRI and his doctor called the same day and said “Eric, I don’t know how to tell you this, but it looks like a tumor has metastasized and is originating from somewhere else.”
“These were all words that I didn’t understand – how could pain in my shoulder be a tumor, and maybe more tumors? They sent me to Dr. Murphy at Tennessee Oncology to find out more.”
Dr. Murphy, a medical oncologist with Tennessee Oncology, ordered several tests and biopsies for his shoulder and to his surprise, lungs too.
“Finally in January 2019, Dr. Murphy told me so calmly and compassionately ‘you have Stage IV metastatic lung cancer and you have seven months to live.’ I was shocked. I am a man of faith so I had peace about death but I was concerned about two things 1. Who would care for my elderly parents who live with me and 2. How will we manage my pain?”
Eric’s cancer was in his right shoulder, his left lung and his T11 vertebrae. Eric began to get his personal and professional affairs in order immediately.
“In the midst of the madness, I had some of the most beautiful moments with my family. Time together all piled in bed laughing and watching a movie like we used to do when we were kids. Times that would not have happened if mortality was not on the line.”
During this time, Eric leaned on his faith. Dr. Murphy continued to be diligent with his care and ordered samples of his lung tumor to find out exactly which gene mutation was causing his cancer.
In February, Eric began radiation on his shoulder and a month later, Dr. Murphy informed him he had found a clinical trial through Sarah Cannon Research Institute in Nashville.
“Again, I was in shock. Dr. Murphy had given me seven months to live and I’d gone to another institution for a second opinion and they confirmed the diagnosis. Now, it seems as though I had some hope and amazingly, here in Nashville?”
Eric met with Dr. Bauer, clinical investigator at Sarah Cannon Research Institute at Tennessee Oncology in late March.
“The first thing I noticed was such a welcoming atmosphere- the folks at Sarah Cannon were genuinely happy to see me. Dr. Bauer walked in and immediately filled the room with his warmth and kindness. I sensed a room of optimism and joy. Dr. Bauer explained to me that I have an extremely rare form of lung cancer which emerges from a rare and unique RET gene mutation. There is now a drug specifically designed for this mutation and we think you would be a great candidate.”
Eric was speechless. Not only did he have a fighting chance, but also the drug was just two pills in the morning and two at night with very few possible side effects. Dr. Bauer explained that the drug was designed to seek out the gene mutation that makes the cancer grow, and shut it off.”
Eric did not hesitate to join the trial and Sarah Cannon enrolled him on the trial within two weeks – nearly record time for enrollment.
At first, Eric would come into the clinic every week and after about a month switched to very three weeks.
“Before the clinical trial I would wake up every morning and it was as if my body was saying ‘we’re dying.’ I could feel it so intensely. After a few weeks of the trial I did not feel that way anymore – optimism started to creep in. I chose to believe that God was healing me.”
After eight weeks, Eric had new CTs, which revealed a 46% shrinkage of the tumor in his left lung. Eric and his care team were ecstatic.
“I had written to Dr. Murphy about my success and experience at Sarah Cannon and when I ran into him, we both didn’t have words. Just a big hug with tears in our eyes- it was an exquisite moment I’ll never forget.”
Eric continued to improve for more than a year and recently had a recurrence.
“Besides saving my life, Sarah Cannon’s constant monitoring of my symptoms and scans were the reason they so swiftly identified a recurrence and switched me to a different drug literally overnight. This new drug, which was recently approved by the FDA, appears to be working according to my latest PET scan and I am tolerating it well – I actually have more energy on it!
As someone who had seven months to live, I’ve been given a second chance at life and I am LIVING. Dr. Bauer truly saved my life – he is a highly-gifted physician and I am so thankful to him, and my entire care team, for providing me with an option to extend and improve my quality of life.”
*Eric was not a smoker and had only occasionally smoked cigars. However, he was exposed to close secondhand smoke for nearly a decade.