WTOP’s Neal Augenstein has ‘no evidence of disease,’ months after stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis

A lot can happen in five months.

In November 2022, I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer with malignant lesions and lymph nodes in both lungs. Now, my oncologist tells me I have “No Evidence of Disease,” in my lungs or anywhere else in my body.

For a patient with cancerous tumors, NED is essentially the same as ‘remission,’ which is used for blood cancers: The signs and symptoms of cancer are no longer present in my body.

It’s not the same as “cured,” and if you asked if I were cancer-free, I’d have to add “for now.”

I’m recovering beautifully from last week’s robot-assisted lobectomy to remove the upper lobe of my left lung where my cancer started. The five small incisions from the four tiny robot arms, operated by my surgeon, as well as a drainage tube are healing well.

Walking a couple miles a day is helping me recover my lung capacity.

So, what’s next?

From here, I’ll continue with the one-pill-a-day targeted therapy I’ve taken since December, which killed the cancerous lesions and lymph nodes in both lungs.

In November 2022, after a biopsy showed I had lung cancer, biomarker testing focused on my DNA and the changes that led to uncontrolled cell growth, which is what cancer is.

The biomarker testing showed I have EGFR exon 19 deletion. For that particular mutation, there’s a targeted therapy called osimertinib, with a brand name of Tagrisso, which “turns off” the signals that tell my cancer cells to grow and divide.

And I’ll have CT scans every few months; CT scans can detect any activity down to millimeters. My oncologist and surgeon tells me if cancer were to recur in my lungs, or anywhere in my body, it would be much easier to aggressively treat, likely with surgery or radiation.

Psychologically, I’m feeling terrific. Reflecting on the new developments in biopharmaceuticals and operating room technology, in the arsenal of my wonderful treatment team, I’m allowing myself to breathe several sighs of relief.

So, it seems like the first leg of my cancer journey is winding to a close. While I certainly wouldn’t mind hearing “Neal, you’re cured,” I’m pleasantly surprised, frankly, at how easily I’m accepting that stringent monitoring will continue for the foreseeable future.

So, NED, or “cancer-free, for now” are good places to be, five months after the start of my cancer journey.

My oncologist told me “the surveillance plan will be similar to someone with active cancer, given that we have to remain vigilant.”

Strategically, that absolutely makes sense — and as a person hoping to live a long, healthy life, it’s even more appreciated.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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