When you hear that someone has lung cancer, you can't help but assume that person must be a smoker, but that's not always the case. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society more than 3,000 non-smokers die every year. During this national Lung Cancer Awareness Month Nancy Naeve Brown wants you to meet a Sioux Falls man who has stage 3 lung cancer and has never touched a cigarette a day in his life.
Matt Ellefson from Sioux Falls knows he is facing an uphill battle. He was diagnosed with lung cancer on December 31, 2009. Not exactly the way you want to ring in the New Year.
Matt says, "I had absolutely no symptoms what-so-ever until one morning I woke up and coughed up some blood. I knew that obviously something wasn't right so that led to some testing and I discovered I had lung cancer."
Matt and his wife Melissa immediately went to work to knock the cancer down. He enrolled in a clinical trial and started a 4 month aggressive simultaneous combination of chemo therapy, radiation and medication and it worked. He went in to remission for a year only to learn in August of 2011 the cancer came back in at least one of his lymph nodes. Surgery is not a viable option in matt's case.
Oncologist Dr. Heidi McKean with Avera Medical Group Oncology and Hematology says, "Thankfully on his most recent scans it's not in other parts of the body such as brain, liver and bones."
More positive news, Matt's recurrence coincidently came at the same time the FDA approved Xalcori. It's a new drug for a sub-set of patients with non-small cell lung cancer, like Matt, who have tested positive for a specific gene mutation called ALK.
Dr. McKean says, "In the world of lung cancer we've waited a long time for some progress. It's been 6 years since the last drug was approved by the FDA so this is exciting news.
Xalkori is a targeted therapy that works by wiping out the memory cells of this particular type of cancer in patients with this particular type of gene mutation.
Dr. McKean says, "Lung cancer is responsible for more deaths than colon. breast and prostate combines every year and we needed to make progress here."
Matt says, "The stage I have has a 5 year survival rate of 5 % so the odds are not in my favor, but with the new gene therapy it certainly helps."
Even though Matt is only 49 and never smoked a cigarette a day in his life. He's not wasting time on what this diagnoses is denying him. Instead, he's training for a half marathon, eating healthy and living each day to the fullest.
Matt says, "I love all the great things that lie ahead and for me I stay focused on that. I know right now I have a minimum of 12 months to live and if that stops working I have another drug in the making that will maybe give me another 12 months. To me that's a lot of time. There are a lot of things I can do."
I for one will pray he gets to do them all.