Patty Watkins loves being outdoors: she’s an avid gardener and logs up to four miles a day with a group of friends who walk the streets and trails of her neighborhood. It was a strange then, for the healthy 57-year-old woman to notice that she was wheezing at night. A month later, she was diagnosed with blood clots in her calf. Scans to check for other blood clots revealed a shocking diagnosis: Stage 4 lung cancer that had spread to the lining around her heart.
“I knew at that time that I was going to make it to my son’s graduation from Auburn University in May,” she said.
Patty dove into treatment options, first undergoing chemotherapy and targeted radiation on tumors that had spread to her brain. She was also tested for genomic mutations called biomarkers: differences in some cancer tumors that are susceptible to new drugs called targeted therapies. Targeted therapy drugs attack just the cancer cells and frequently have fewer side effects and work better than chemotherapy and radiation.
In Patty’s case, her lung cancer tested positive for the ROS-1 mutation. However, the drugs for the mutation were so new that they were still in the clinical trial stage, and she had to seek out a cancer team who would support the use of the unapproved drug targeting the ROS-1 mutation. Patty found a willing oncologist in Boston who sponsored her access to the new drug by writing a clinical trial just for her. Patty is currently “NED,” or No Evidence of Disease.
Patty spends much of her time currently helping other who are facing lung cancer. She is a member of the ROS-1ders (pronounced “Ross-wonders!”) a group of ROS-1 positive lung cancer patients who advocate for increased funding for lung cancer research, targeted therapies, and new therapies available to ROS-1 positive lung cancer patients.
She is also passionate about the importance of genomic testing and a second opinion when faced with a lung cancer diagnosis.
“First and foremost, I tell people they need to be tested for a mutation (also called a biomarker or oncogene.) That’s first. Also, get a second opinion. You’re not going to hurt your doctor’s feelings if you ask for a second opinion.”
Today, Patty spends her time as an advocate for lung cancer patients and their families. She has been asked to join the National Lung Cancer Round Table, and started the first lung cancer support group at Winship Cancer Institute at Emory in Atlanta.