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YOUR HEALTH: Hope for lung cancer patients

One woman thought she had lost her battle with lung cancer

ST. LOUIS — It's a devastating diagnosis.

By the time you feel the symptoms of lung cancer it can already be too late.

More than 131,000 people will die of lung cancer this year. 

It has the lowest five-year survival rate of the other most common cancers. 

Cindy Morris knows all those statistics.

But she's accustomed to facing big challenges.

"I'm an exciting person. I like doing exciting stuff."

From jumping solo at 13,000 feet, to speeding down the highway on her Harley. 

Cindy thought nothing could stop her.

Then something almost did.

"I woke up on a Saturday and there was a large lump in my neck."

Cindy was diagnosed with stage four non-small cell lung cancer.

"I was stunned."

Radiation, chemotherapy, surgery and two clinical trials worked temporarily but the tumors returned in her lungs, lymph nodes, adrenal glands, spleen and brain. 

Then a new drug gave her new hope.

Washington University lung cancer oncologists believed the drug sotorasib may be Cindy's last chance.

"We were in a tough situation where the tumor was popping up everywhere," said oncologist Dr. Siddhartha Devarakonda of the Washington University School of Medicine.

Sotorasib targets tumors caused by a specific DNA mutation, blocking cancer cells from multiplying.

"She had this huge lump that was sitting on the, uh, on her belly," Dr. Devarakonda added.

"We knew that that was bad. And when we started the drug within a couple of weeks, I can no longer find it on exam."

One week after starting the trial, Cindy was able to cut her pain medication in half. 

Three weeks into the trial, Cindy's tumors began shrinking. 

Now two years later she's still taking the drug. 

All but one tumor in her lung have disappeared.

"I've done a mission trip," she proudly said.

"I've been back to my church. I mean, I feel like me again." 

Researchers say in 80% of the 126 patients on the trial, tumors got smaller or the growth did not progress.

Sotorasib is FDA approved and sold under the brand name Lumakras.

What is sotorasib?

Sotorasib is the newest development in combating the KRAS gene in non-small cell lung cancer. 

It works by attacking the gene protein which will keep the cancer cell from growing. 

The common side effects are diarrhea, joint and muscle pain, nausea, feeling tired or weak, cough, low white blood cell or red blood cell counts changes in certain other blood tests.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.