Stage 4 metastatic lung cancer survivor sings on stage for first time in a year after remarkable improvementsMay 10, 2021
Patient and her physician encourage community to persevere, don’t delay care
Nacogdoches, Texas – About every two and a half minutes, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with lung cancer, and 4 in 5 of those diagnosed will ultimately die from the disease. Yet, more Americans than ever are surviving lung cancer. While the disease remains the leading cause of cancer deaths among both women and men, over the past five years, the survival rate in Texas has increased by a dramatic 14.1 percent.
72-year-old retired schoolteacher Nancy Ebarb is one of those survivors who wants to tell her story to help remind others not to delay care and that “miracles are possible when you don’t give up and find a health care team that truly cares about you like I did,” she said. “My cancer journey started with a cough that some initially attributed to allergies. But it was cancer.”
One year after being diagnosed with stage 4 (the most severe form) metastatic lung cancer, Ebarb finally did something she missed and loves. For the first time in a year, Nancy stood in the front row of the choir at First Baptist Church-Jasper, took a deep breath, and sang her heart out – first at Palm Sunday services March 28 and then during Easter services April 4. Thanks to oncologists in nearby Nacogdoches Medical Center, her tumor has shrunk from the size of an egg to the size of a walnut. “I went from fearing I may not be alive for much longer to having hope that I’m beating this,” Ebarb said.
When she was first diagnosed, the cancer had already spread to her adrenal gland and her left rib. She and her husband, John, were shocked because she’d never smoked a day in her life. Living in the small town of Newton, Texas, the couple learned of the expertise of oncologists affiliated with Nacogdoches Medical Center and made the two-hour drive to meet them. Mathews George, M.D., a board certified oncologist with Nacogdoches Medical Partners, would be her physician.
“It was the best decision we made because Dr. George and his team knew exactly what I needed and began treatment immediately,” Ebarb said. “And when the medication was too expensive for me to afford, Dr. George’s staff went above and beyond to ensure I was able to get it no matter what. They did everything they could and showed they truly cared about me as a person,” she said.
Ebarb’s cancer therapy consisted of sophisticated testing and treatment offered at Nacogdoches Medical Center. She received a very specific oral targeted treatment, which helped avoid cytotoxic chemotherapy. This combination of targeted treatment and a bone-strengthening infusion therapy ultimately succeeded in shrinking her tumor and yielded an excellent response against the metastasized cancer in her rib and adrenal gland.
Dr. George said Nancy Ebarb is a shining example of the perseverance that all patients, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, should follow.
“Lung cancer survival rates in Texas are improving and it is in part because of patients like Nancy who are doing the right thing,” Dr. George said. “She listened to her body and even when others had written her cough off as allergies, she didn’t stop there until she was able to get appropriate scans and a biopsy that helped to accurately detect and diagnose her cancer,” Dr. George said. “And she adheres to her treatment even when it isn’t easy. Nancy doesn’t give up and she’s a partner with us in her care, which plays a major role in our success, together, in beating this cancer,” he said.
According to the American Lung Association, most lung cancer cases are diagnosed at later stages when the cancer has spread to other organs, treatment options are less likely to be curative, and survival is lower. Nationally, only 22.9 percent of cases are caught early when the five-year survival rate is much higher (59 percent). Unfortunately, most cases (47 percent) are not caught until a late stage when the survival rate is only 6 percent.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also attributed to delays in diagnosis. Lung cancer screenings are critical for early detection and timely treatment, but the pandemic has made keeping up with routine care, including screenings, more difficult. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons found that deferred care in the spring of 2020 when the pandemic first surged had worsened outcomes for patients with lung cancer.
Dr. George said he wants to remind the community during Cancer Control Awareness Month and amid the COVID-19 pandemic: “Do not delay care. A simple screening could save your life.”