Lung cancer patient finds hope after second opinion

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On a late summer morning in 2023, Jackie Taul sat on her back deck musing on gratitude, the joys of life and second chances. Her ideas were not the result of reading a self-help book or watching an inspirational film. Jackie knew what she was talking about.

Two years prior, Jackie was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic carcinoma, a lung cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes.

“I was never sick a day,” said Jackie, a 60-year-old retired emergency room nurse. “We only found the cancer while preparing to treat a hernia, and the CT showed pulmonary nodules.”

In February 2023, she had a clear lung scan, which hangs on her refrigerator.

“I gave copies of that scan image to my son, daughter and five grandkids,” she said proudly.

Jackie’s journey from diagnosis to remission was not a straight path, however.

Good advice and a second opinion

When a biopsy of a lymph node in Jackie’s neck confirmed her lung cancer diagnosis, Jackie’s primary care physician referred her to a well-respected facility in Louisville for treatment. There she received treatment for six months, after which scans showed the cancer had only progressed.

She was told that her next best option was a “one-time” clinical trial treatment requiring at least a one-month prep period and a stay in the hospital.

On her drive home from that appointment, she called a friend, who advised her to get a second opinion from the lung cancer team at Norton Cancer Institute.

“I called and saw Dr. Lye that week,” Jackie said. “He reviewed all of my files and confirmed that I had received the best first treatment, but there were other less drastic treatments we could try.”

Adam D. Lye, M.D., is Jackie’s medical oncologist with Norton Cancer Institute.

“Upon reviewing her tests, I recognized two specific biomarkers that are excellent targets for therapy,” Dr. Lye said. “I was confident that we could help slow Jackie’s cancer while avoiding treatments with debilitating side effects.”

Precision treatment

The type of treatment that inspired this confidence often is referred to as personalized medicine or precision medicine. At Norton Cancer Institute, it simply is a well-researched, leading-edge standard of care for qualifying cancers.

“Jackie is being treated with Enhertu, which specifically targets the HER2 protein, with direct delivery to those cells,” Dr. Lye said. “This drug, and those like it, treat cancers like a sniper with pinpoint delivery rather than a bomb that causes collateral damage.”

Precision medicine begins with an analysis of the cancer’s genetics — not the patient’s own genes — to find the most efficient target for treatment. While not all cancers have a treatable mutation, those that do offer oncologists a bullseye for precise therapy.

“Jackie’s cancer actually has a second mutation that we will treat if for some reason the current therapy stops working,” Dr. Lye said. “Her case is unique in that we have a built-in backup plan.”

Why get a second opinion?

Today Jackie is living each day to its fullest because she followed her friend’s advice and called for a second opinion, even though she liked her first doctor and the facility’s reputation.

“I always encourage patients to get second opinions,” Dr. Lye said. “They are especially important when a patient is told there is no treatment at all or no treatment left. If that is true, a second opinion can help the patient be more at peace by making sure nothing has been missed.”

A study published in the journal Cancer Medicine found that when patients seek an expert second opinion, even when the diagnosis is confirmed, a less intense treatment often is recommended.

“Patients need to trust and feel at ease with their oncologist,” Dr. Lye said. “If a patient doesn’t trust me, they need to find someone they do trust. They need to feel comfortable that they are receiving the right treatment from someone who has their best interest at heart.”

Dr. Lye has certainly earned Jackie’s confidence.

“I can’t explain how I feel about him,” she said. “I put my life in God’s hands, and He put it in Dr. Lye’s hands.”

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