Northwest Asian Weekly
Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States and will kill more Americans this year than breast, prostate, colon, and liver cancers combined. The Chinese American population has the highest death rates for lung and bronchial cancer among all Asian American groups.
Lung cancer patient Ellen Chung refuses to let these statistics affect her positive outlook on life. Resilience is not a new concept for Chung. Born in Hawaii, her father worked in a sugar cane field. She was the fifth of six children.
She worked two jobs to follow her dream of moving to New York City after high school. Chung has since lived in four different cities, had four children, returned to college in her 30s, and is now retired and enjoying life as a grandmother.
Chung views her lung cancer diagnosis as just another hurdle in her life. She was diagnosed with stage IV non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in December 2002. She never smoked, and her only symptoms were some indigestion and pain in her left chest and shoulder.
“My first oncologist gave me nine months to live and said the only effective treatment option was chemotherapy, which may or may not give me more time — I decided to try another oncologist,” Chung said.
According to Chung’s current oncologist, Dr. Nick Chen, M.D., Ph.D., at the Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center, there are currently four standard treatments for lung cancer — surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and targeted therapies.
However, when Chung was initially diagnosed, her options were more limited.
Chung’s stage IV cancer initially responded well to chemotherapy, but the cancer eventually returned. When the drug Tarceva (generic name of the drug is erlotinib) was approved, Chen recommended this treatment for Chung.
“Now, almost six years later, I take a pill once a day, which allows me to continue living my life,” Chung said.
“In recent years, there have been advances in lung cancer treatment, including targeted
therapies like Tarceva that allow us to specifically attack the cancer cells,” said Chen. “Studies have been conducted showing the benefit of Tarceva in non-smoking Chinese American women, like Ellen, who has had a positive response.”
After years of working and caring for others, Chung has learned to take time for herself. She enjoys reading, and has discovered gardening, sewing, and baking — hobbies she used to be too busy to enjoy. ♦