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Living Medical History: Surviving Lung Cancer Together

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Published on April 16, 2015

Meet Pam and Randy Griffith, married for over 40 years. In 2013, after dealing with a persistent cough, Pam went in for a checkup and was told she had stage III lung cancer.  A lobectomy revealed she actually was a stage IV and was told, “We can no longer hope to cure you.”  But Dr. Scott Antonia, Chair of Moffitt Cancer Center’s Thoracic Department, wasn’t ready to give up. He got Pam on a clinical trial—and that made all the difference.  At her weakest, Pam was only able to walk 10 feet. Today she golfs three times a week, goes for walks, bikes and shops.  As she says, “I do everything I like…I have my whole life back!”

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Transcript | Living Medical History: Surviving Lung Cancer Together

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.       

Andrew Schorr:

Hello, I’m Andrew Schorr from Patient Power and with Pam Griffith and Randy Griffith. Pam, back in 2013, you went to see a checkup for a cough you’d had for a while, and it turned out to be advanced lung cancer. That’s devastating.

Pam Griffith:

Well, it absolutely was. Initially, they didn’t think it was so advanced. But once I had the surgery and the tumor was removed from the lower-right lobe of my lung, it was malignant. And at that time was stage III, so I thought this isn’t so bad, because I can get treatment, and I can survive this. But then once they removed the lobe and the tumor, and they looked at it in pathology, it was more advanced than that.

Andrew Schorr:

The cancer was getting worse. So, Randy, married over 40 years and your wife is diagnosed with what turned out to be advanced lung cancer gotta be a terrible shock. 

Randy Griffith:

It was a shock and kind of happened slowly, because she had a cough that they thought maybe was allergy related. And then they thought maybe it was GERD related. And then the cough progressed to the point that it was really a bothersome cough, and that’s when we went to a pulmonologist. And initially even that first test that she had showed that there was no cancer, so we were hopeful along the way. But then when her surgeon finally decided I don’t care what that test said. This is cancer, and you need to get it taken care of. She went in within a week and had her lower lobe out. Yes, I was very sad and very upset. 

Andrew Schorr:

It’s your worst fear. 

Randy Griffith:

Absolutely. 

Andrew Schorr:

Pam, so you hit some real low points as this cancer progressed. The cancer was winning against a lot of drugs.

Pam Griffith:

Yes. 

Andrew Schorr:

But you were treated at a research center. You got to a research center eventually with Dr. Antonia. So your life changed because you were in a clinical trial. Tell us about that. 

Pam Griffith:

Well, once we found Moffitt and Dr. Antonia, the first thing he told us is that there’s this wonderful new drug that was new, and he said it was the most promising new cancer drug he has seen in the last 20 years. And turns out it was nivolumab (Opdivo) made by Bristol-Myers Squib, and he wanted to get me in that study, because obviously my cancer had progressed to stage IV.  I mean it had metastasized in both lungs. I had a large lesion on the back of my head, tumors sticking out of the side of my neck and my shoulder blade and large masses on both adrenal glands.

The first time we met Dr. Antonia after we saw that CAT scan, he said, “We can no longer hope to cure you.” And I just went numb. I was just totally numb. Believe it or not, I held it together, because in the back of my mind, my mind was just absolutely racing. And I thought you know I don’t think I’m going to die. 

So he got us into the study. And within I guess the third treatment I had of nivolumab, I noticed that this large lump that was sticking out of my neck was beginning to go down. And Randy noticed because he saw the lump that was on my shoulder blade, and he said, “You know, that’s going down too.” And gradually this lesion that had become quite large, we watched that diminish. And today it’s completely gone. You can’t even tell there was ever anything there. I have my life back. I play golf with my friends and all 18 holes. I walk, I bicycle ride with my husband. I pretty much do everything I like.

Andrew Schorr:

Randy, she said she played golf, it’s more than that. How many times did she play golf last week?

Randy Griffith:

Three times.

Andrew Schorr:

When you were so sick, what could you do?

Pam Griffith:

I could not walk from our bedroom to our kitchen in the mornings when I would get up. I couldn’t. I couldn’t. I couldn’t walk but just a few feet. I’d lost a tremendous amount of weight. The chemo and radiation I was on really took a toll on me, and it did nothing to stop the cancer. The cancer continued to grow, and it was taking over my body. And we would come to Moffitt initially, and the valet would park our car. And we’d walk in the door, and I’ve have to sit down and catch my breath. Then we could go to the elevators, and I would have to sit down several times before I got back to the thoracic center.

Andrew Schorr:

So if at a low point, you were close to 0 and maybe even fearing death.

Pam Griffith:

Oh, sure.

Andrew Schorr:

If that’s a 0, where are you today? 

Pam Griffith:

Oh my goodness.

Andrew Schorr:

Are you a 10 or a 9?

Pam Griffith:

I’m probably a 10 today.

Andrew Schorr:

Whoah.

Pam Griffith:

It’s just amazing. It really is. This drug is going to save so many lives. It saved my life.

Andrew Schorr:

Let’s talk about this. So you’ve been living medical history. Now it’s going to apply differently to different people. Not every drug is right for every person. I’m sure you’ve met people when you go to clinic. That’s why they do clinical trials to see how it works. How do you feel about your future or even every day now, you and your wife, six grandchildren, your kids? 

Randy Griffith:

Well, we thank the lord every day for the day. I think we’re both very encouraged and very enthusiastic. It’s our old life is back, for all intents and purposes. She plays golf, she shops, she does the grocery shopping. You know, we do a lot of things together. At her low point, literally she couldn’t walk 10 feet, and now she does what she wants to do. She feels great, and that makes me feel really great, too.

Andrew Schorr:

Randy, so you have told me that you believe it’s important to reach out and consult with a specialist in lung cancer with this changing landscape of approved treatments existing previous treatments that have been around a long time and research. Tell us about how you think that made a big difference for you and Pam. 

Randy Grifith:

Well, I can’t emphasize enough the skill of the practitioner. Dr. Antonia is brilliant, and to be in a place where you have somebody who is so attentive and so knowledgeable of what’s going on in the field, you feel like you’re getting the best you can get. And when we came here and saw how bright he was and how attentive he was and knew that these things were available and even when he told us that he couldn’t hope to cure Pam, he immediately told us there’s an opportunity though for something that’s very promising, let’s get you in it. And then we couldn’t get in it initially, because Pam’s platelets were too low to qualify. But we went home and worked on that and got her approved - I think your platelets were 116—they had to be over a hundred, 116 on a Thursday. She got her first treatment on Friday.

Andrew Schorr:

So what would you say—people see these video clips around the world—so maybe Dr. Antonia or somebody like him who’s very well qualified in thoracic oncology, what would you say about seeking somebody like that out?

Randy Griffith:

I would say if there was one thing that I’ve learned through this process is go to an NCI hospital. Find somebody who is well versed in your particular cancer, and that’s where your best opportunities are. I have nothing against people who practice in general. But when you have an advanced disease like lung cancer, you need somebody who sees it every day and somebody who deals with it and knows what the options are, every option that’s available for you, because you don’t have a lot of time to waste. 

Andrew Schorr:

So, Pam, how do you feel about the future now? 

Pam Griffith:

Oh, I feel great. The one thing I really do want to say, for me anyhow, I’m very thankful to God and to medical since and to Moffitt, because I know I’m alive today because of that. 

Andrew Schorr:

And as far as being in a clinical trial, what would you say to people about considering - a lot of people are afraid of clinical trials. But in lung cancer with such serious diagnosis and where a lot of research is going on, it seems like people should consider it. 

Pam Griffith:

Oh, absolutely. But I can understand, you know, why some people might be apprehensive. My experience has been wonderful, obviously. I just, for me, I didn’t have any options. You know, they couldn’t do surgery. I had cancer everywhere. So I wasn’t going survive that, so I was thrilled and delighted to even have that option and the privilege of being in a clinical study. And I hope somehow I can help other people. 

Andrew Schorr:

You are right now. Thank you both for being with us. And we wish you all the best. How about another 40 years of happy marriage and children celebrating that and playing a lot of golf. Thank you for being with us.

I’m Andrew Schorr. Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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