How many people does it take to make Edwina Edgeworth’s famous banana pudding? One to do the hard work, and a chorus of over 30 family members to cheer her on. Edwina (also known as Deniece) relied on this familiar recipe for success as she embarked on a difficult medical journey a few years ago.
In early 2012, Edwina was running a few miles between her routes as a school bus driver. But she was beginning to feel more and more winded. So during her February checkup, her nurse listened to her breathing.
“They sent me to Carolinas HealthCare System’s Dove Internal Medicine in Monroe,” Edwina said. “That’s when I learned my left lung had completely collapsed.”
Her situation called for further exploration. She was admitted to Carolinas HealthCare System Union in Monroe, where she was seen by several doctors. “They discovered that I had stage IV lung cancer. And it had spread to my liver and my brain,” Edwina explained.
Edwina hadn’t smoked a day in her life, yet she was faced with the reality of having a stage of lung cancer where 50% of patients don’t make it past a year. Lung cancer often goes undiagnosed in its early stages and Edwina experienced no warning signs that it had spread to other areas of her body.
Anyone who knows Edwina wouldn’t be surprised to hear that she took the news with grace and determination. With a matter-of-fact “OK, what are we going to do next, God?” Dr. Brouse at Levine Cancer Institute-Union started her out on the cancer medicine Tarceva, which was effective for 18 months.
Dr. Brouse then referred Edwina to a multi-specialty team at Levine Cancer Institute in Charlotte, helmed by oncologist Dr. Daniel Haggstrom. Her treatment included radiation, brain surgery and additional cancer medications. After her surgery and a 12-day hospital stay, she also required physical therapy to learn to walk again.
When more traditional cancer treatments stopped working, Edwina became one of 10 patients in the Charlotte area to begin taking AZD9291. This exciting new treatment finds the path that is causing tumor growth, specific to an individual’s genetic makeup. It shuts down the path, causing the tumor to shrink or disappear.
Levine Cancer Institute is one of only a few U.S. centers with approval to test AZD9291. This personalized medicine approach shows great promise as a game-changing treatment for many forms of cancer.
“My doctor wanted to try AZD – it was the last effort. I said, ‘OK, let’s go for it. What have I got to lose?’” Soon after, the doctors were amazed by the effect.
“My lungs seemed to be okay. And my liver tumor had shrunk 60%. It’s just one pill a day and I have no side effects, except some cramps. Nothing I can’t handle.”
Because of Levine Cancer Institute’s integrated approach to cancer care delivery, Edwina was able to receive all her care without leaving the Charlotte/Monroe area. It also kept her close to another integrated system – a circle of family members who all live along the same stretch of road in rural Monroe.
“I’m the youngest of 11 children,” said Edwina. “My family treated me the way I was acting – like everything was going to be all right. They kept encouraging me as if I wasn’t handed a bunch of bad news. Looking back on it, I wonder, 'How did I do that? How did I make it through? It was God’s grace and mercy and the prayers of my loved ones that brought me through this. I could have never made it without God, and the support of the Levine Cancer Institute Team.”
Edwina has returned to walking every day, except when it’s just too hot outside. She’ll often walk to her sister’s house, and she never knows who will join her. Once a year, for the lung cancer awareness walk she organizes, the number of fellow walkers swells to nearly 50. She also participates in the Lung Cancer Initiative 5K. She proudly boasts that she shaved three minutes off her time this year.
Edwina and her niece traveled to DC this year for the LUNGe Forward Lung Cancer Initiative of North Carolina 5K to gather with over 150 other lung cancer survivors. “It was one of the most exciting things to happen to me in a while. It was truly amazing.”
Edwina is also back to making her banana pudding from scratch. The kind with vanilla wafers. Her whole family counts on her to make it, as they always have, and they provide the chorus of cheers.
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