Patients like Carol Pitman are living longer, more fulfilling lives thanks to advances in cancer treatments.
Vibrant and active at age 77, Carol Pitman came down with a cold after gathering with her friends to watch a football game in 2019.
“I was still coughing a week later, so I went in to see my doctor,” Pitman recalled.
Following a physical exam, chest X-ray, and CT scan (another type of medical imaging), Pitman received some shocking news: She had lung cancer.
Because she’d had no symptoms until developing a cough, Pitman was even more surprised to learn that her cancer was already at stage 4, meaning it had spread, or metastasized, from one lung to the other and to the surrounding lymph nodes. Lung cancer frequently goes undetected until it’s at an advanced stage because symptoms don’t appear before then or are mistaken for other health problems.
While stage 4 lung cancer can’t be cured, Pitman’s oncologist, Tanvir Sattar, MD, reassured her that advances in a type of treatment called immunotherapy could extend her life. Immunotherapy stimulates the body’s own immune system to slow or stop the growth of cancer cells.
“Since we started adding immunotherapy to systemic chemotherapy,” said Dr. Sattar, “we have prolonged our patients’ median survival time from about 9 to 12 months to about 18 months, and we’ve also been able to improve their quality of life.”
Since Pitman’s diagnosis, a combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy infusions has kept her cancer stable and under control.
“You’d never know by looking at me that I have cancer,” said Pitman. “It’s really remarkable.”
Going through cancer treatment made Pitman especially vulnerable to COVID-19, so she’s spent lots of time at home during the pandemic. She’s a member of multiple historical societies and participates virtually to stay in touch. She keeps her mind active by reading and doing The New York Times crossword puzzle every day.
“Dr. Sattar and my entire care team have been simply wonderful,” Pitman said. “When he first told me I have cancer, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘We are going to work at this together.’ And boy, have we!”
Learn more about cancer care at Kaiser Permanente.