Atlanta, Ga. (May 15, 2013) – At 33 years old, Samantha Mixon received not one, but two surprising diagnoses shortly after she presented at Piedmont Henry Hospital with severe migraines. There, doctors discovered a grey mass on her brain and immediately sent her to Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, where Howard Chandler, M.D., a neurosurgical oncologist, removed a brain tumor the next morning.
A biopsy showed the brain tumor was actually a result of stage four non-small cell lung cancer having metastasized to the brain. Mixon, a non-smoker with no family history of the disease, was shocked. Her symptoms - severe headaches, blurred vision and decreased depth perception - had began not more than a month earlier and all could be attributed to the brain tumor. ‘
“As unusual as it may seem, it is not at all uncommon to discover a primary cancer – especially lung and breast cancers – from tumors found in the brain,” said Dr. Chandler. “It is important to pay attention to your body like Samantha did. She knew something was wrong and went to several different medical facilities before going to Piedmont Henry, where they found the tumor.”
Mixon had half-expected to hear that she had a brain tumor, given her family history of them (her cousin was just 34 years old when a cluster of brain tumors claimed her life) and her repeated misdiagnoses of migraines and sinusitis at various medical facilities close to her home. What Mixon did not expect, however, was to hear she had lung cancer.
“I was looking up my diagnosis and read there was a two percent chance of a five year survival rate for me,” said Mixon. “But Freda, my nurse navigator, told me not to look at the stats and that age was on my side. I had so many questions like, ‘What if it comes back?’ and Dr. Chandler would say, ‘We’ll take care of it.’ I had complete confidence because I trust Dr. Chandler so much.”
To fight the disease, Mixon has undergone brain surgery, Gamma Knife Radiosurgery and a drug called Tarceva which targets cancer cells only. Eventually, Mixon says her body will build a resistance to the drug which will lead her to begin chemotherapy and radiation as well.
“I think a lot of people have this misconception that lung cancer is just a smoker’s disease but that’s not true,” said Mixon. “It can happen to anyone. One of the hardest things I’ve had to do in life was explain this cancer to my eight-year-old daughter Karley. I told her that I was going to do my best to beat this, but I can’t promise I will.”
Studies show that the rate of lung cancer in non-smoking women like Mixon is on the rise.
“Unfortunately, we have no good reason why that is,” said Saeid Khansarinia, M.D., Piedmont Atlanta. “Plus, there is a generalized stigma attached with patients who are diagnosed – as if the diagnosis may be due to their behavior. What we have to do is forget about that stigma and start looking at the number one cancer in the United States. After heart disease, lung cancer is the largest killer in the country.”
Mixon’s most recent PET scan indicates that the primary tumor in Mixon’s lung has been reduced by 65 percent. In addition, there is no more cancer in her brain. Numerous nodes in her lung have disappeared, and there are only two left in addition to the primary tumor.
Lung cancer causes more deaths than colon, breast and prostate cancer combined, according to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). Known risk factors for lung cancer are tobacco smoking, contact with radon, contact with asbestos or other cancer-causing agents, family history, diagnoses of certain other cancers and/or lung disease and contact with second-hand smoke. As with many diseases, early detection of lung cancer is key to successful treatment.
In an effort to raise awareness about lung cancer and to share her journey with others, Mixon blogs about her battle with stage four non-small cell lung cancer. To keep up with her progress, visit samlmixon.blogspot.com. For more information about brain tumors, lung cancer and available treatment options, visit piedmont.org.