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To know Linda is to know what it means to have a heart of service. She has spent most of her life volunteering with organizations she is passionate about and years caring for her ailing husband. After Linda's husband passed away in January 2016, within a matter of days, she began to cough up red mucous. When her cough was soon accompanied by a painful tightness in her chest, she saw her primary care physician who immediately sent her to El Camino Health for a chest X-ray.
The chest X-ray revealed a spot in her lung that doctors wanted to investigate further. Linda had a computed tomography (CT) scan, bronchoscopy and a needle biopsy that revealed she had stage III lung cancer, and only a 5% chance of survival.
"I never thought I'd have lung cancer — I had half of my cousin's cigarette when I was 10 years old," says Linda. "I wanted to know what it was like so I tried it. But I was never a smoker."
On a Mission to Reach Remission
Linda quickly turned her disbelief to determination to beat her cancer. An engineer by trade, she saw her cancer as a problem that could be solved.
Like many newly diagnosed cancer patients, Linda felt bombarded with information. From doctors to family members to friends, everyone had suggestions about what she should be doing.
"It was overwhelming," says Linda. "But when I heard I only had a 5% chance to make it, I made a vow to myself that I would be among that 5%."
Finding a Way Forward
Linda briefly considered pursuing Chinese medicine to treat her cancer but ultimately trusted the treatment plan created by surgical oncologist Shyamali Singhal, MD, and medical oncologist Jiali Li, MD, at El Camino Health Cancer Center. Linda was ready to move forward, but an unforeseen obstacle threatened to derail her treatment.
Soon after Linda's diagnosis, she discovered she did not have health insurance. Her husband had handled renewing their insurance each year and after his death, she unknowingly missed the window to re-enroll.
Faced with a life-threatening cancer diagnosis but no way to pay for the treatment that could save her life, Linda didn't know where to turn.
A True Team Effort
Linda met with a social worker at El Camino Health Cancer Center who worked with Linda's insurance to verify her husband's death as a life-changing event, allowing Linda to re-enroll in her insurance plan. Thanks to the collaboration between Linda's doctors and the social worker, Linda did not need to delay her treatment.
Linda began a combination of chemotherapy and radiation and focused on taking care of her body. She met with Charis Spielman, MPH, RD, CSO, CNSC, an oncology dietitian at El Camino Health Cancer Center who helped guide Linda to nutritious foods she could eat during treatment and explained the importance of staying well-hydrated.
When Linda was receiving infusion treatments, she participated in El Camino Health Cancer Center's Healing Arts program, where volunteers play music or lead patients in art or other activities while they’re undergoing their often hours-long treatments.
After two months of chemotherapy prescribed by Dr. Li, and radiation overseen by Robert Sinha, MD, Dr. Li ordered an additional six months of immunotherapy to prevent recurrence.
Since Linda's husband had passed away only days before her cancer diagnosis, she thought she'd be navigating her treatment alone. But from doctors and nurses, to social workers and administration, to dietitians and volunteers, Linda had the full force of the El Camino Health Cancer Center fighting her cancer alongside her.
Reaching Her Goal
Once Linda's treatment was complete, she had blood work and a positron emission tomography (PET) scan to check for cancer. The results showed no signs of cancer.
More than six years after her lung cancer diagnosis, Linda continues to have regular CT scans and blood work to monitor her health, which continue to show no presence of cancer. She made it among the 5%.
Paying it Forward
Since her diagnosis, Linda has added a new organization to her regular volunteer rotation: El Camino Health Cancer Center.
Linda volunteers at the infusion center, offering snacks to patients who sit in the chairs she once sat in, undergoing the treatments she once endured.
"My only goal at that time of my diagnosis was to survive," says Linda. "I could rely on Dr. Li, Dr. Singhal, Dr. Sinha and the entire team at El Camino Health Cancer Center to get the best treatment."
"Now I want to provide support and motivation to other cancer patients," says Linda. "I want them to know cancer doesn’t have to be the end of your story."