34-year-old Lisa Briggs, mother of two young children, was diagnosed with Stage 4 terminal lung cancer in November 2014. Her youngest child, Alastair, was just four months old. Lisa has never smoked, and sits within the statistical three out of ten lung cancer patients who are not lifetime smokers.
“Words can’t describe how it felt to be told ‘you have lung cancer’ and the questions that go through your mind: how did this happen?” she says. “All I could think about was my children. What would happen to Kirk as a father and a husband? How were my children going to cope and survive? I can’t afford to die now.”
Lisa underwent emergency surgery to stop the bleeding in her lungs caused by a tumour which was wrapped around and strangling her pulmonary artery (the main artery that exits the heart and supplies the lungs). Further tests revealed the cancer had already spread to eight different locations in Lisa’s body.
However, eighteen months after diagnosis, Lisa is defying expectations. Oncologists at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre (ONJ Centre) were able to find Lisa a place on a clinical trial and in January 2015 she started on a new targeted therapy through the clinical trial.
In the first six weeks all Lisa’s tumours reduced by greater than 50 per cent. In three months she had an all clear PET scan, indicating there was no active cancer in her body. The cancer in her bones had healed, lymph nodes had returned to normal size and blood was flowing back through her pulmonary artery again.
“The reality of it is people thought I only had three months to live, and they are surprised how far I have been able to outlast that,” says Lisa.
“Eighteen months is far greater than I ever thought I would get… (but) my goal I still visualise every day is being an 80-year-old an watching my grandkids grow up. I never count myself out,” Lisa says.
Lisa is an active member of the Love and Light Lung Cancer Support Group, the only face to face group in Victoria for patients, carers and supporters.