SPARTA, NJ- Her doctor calls her results “no less than spectacular.” A Sparta woman diagnosed with lung cancer is able to live a full and active life under the care of local cancer doctors and a relatively new drug.
Four years ago, in July 2013, Linda Daniels was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. “It was a real kick in the head,” she said.
Her journey began with a trip to her local pulmonologist. Tests detected a two-inch mass in her left lung. She had a CAT guided needle biopsy at Newton Hospital to confirm the diagnosis.
From there Daniels’ traditional chemotherapy was directed by a Dr. Bohdan Halibey at Sparta Cancer Center. Incredibly, when the seventh line of traditional chemotherapy showed signs that it would no longer do the job, and tests showed the cancer had metastasized to her liver, Halibey was able to deliver encouraging news.
Daniels recounts Halibey told her she was “now a candidate for a new therapy” that worked with the body’s own immune system to turn the tables on the cancer. Nearly three years ago she began Opdivo and has not looked back.
“I have had pretty good experiences,” she said.
“When I grew up the average life span [for stage four lung cancer] was less than six month,” Halibey said. “She is thriving, through a set of skillful drug combinations.”
There has been no evidence of progression. In fact, “my last three CAT scans have showed no tumors in the lung or on the liver,” Daniels said.
While the patient may never hear they are cured, “we are trying to turn a terminal disease into a chronic disease; make it manageable with treatment,” Halibey said.
According to Halibey, Daniels’ positive results are “because we are using drugs working for her type of tumor.”
Traditional chemotherapies are cytotoxic; they kill all cells often causing bad side effects Halibey said. Daniels said she did have hair loss with one of the earlier treatments.
“Immunotherapy treatment with Opdivo selectively kills the bad cells,” Halibey said.
When asked what side effects Daniels is experiencing on this new therapy she said, “actually I don’t have any.”
Daniels explains she goes to the Sparta Cancer Center every two weeks for an intravenous infusion. She and her doctor anticipate continuing this “until I get an adverse reaction.”
“As the sole family provider, I am able to remain productive,” Danielson said. She is a partner in the accounting firm Daniels and Wert Associates LLC on Sparta Newton Road in Andover. She recently went to Disney World with her family and, after a busy tax season is traveling to St. Marteen.
Halibey said the process for receiving Opdivo begins with a prognostic test. Foundation Medicine in Cambridge, Massachusetts screens for 360 molecular mutations. After “a battery of tests that look specifically in the cell is broken,” the doctor is given a list of options to determine what kind of therapy is recommended, according to Halibey.
In addition to lung cancer, this treatment is being used on ovarian, head and neck, melanoma and kidney cancers according to Halibey.
“It is an exciting time to be an oncologist,” Halibey said.
“I think the world of these people,” Daniels said of her team of doctors. She began the list with Dr. Rakesh Garg her pulmonologist in Newton. “When he learned I was a smoker, he ordered the tests. Then he sent me to Dr. Halibey and I thank God he did. They are all so wonderful,” Daniels said.
Getting in a last word Halibey said, “Everyone should stop smoking for God’s sake.”