From "Death Sentence" to Chronic Condition: 10-year lung cancer survivor believes it's right around the corner
Joan Tashbar says it all started with a shoulder ache. Thinking her pain was stress related, she treated it with muscle relaxers and went on with her busy life. But when her condition never improved, Joan went on a harrowing medical journey, first misdiagnosed with breast cancer, then thyroid cancer before finally receiving the ultimate truth—lung cancer.
“I have a family history of cancer and I thought I had been given a death sentence,” says Joan. “My father and mother both had cancer. I had a brother who had colon cancer. And my younger sister had already died from lung cancer.”
“At first I was devastated and thought I was going to die,” said Joan. “But I told myself, ‘No, you’re not.’”
With a professional resume that included co-owning a consulting firm to defense agencies and high-tech companies to working as a major Mid-Atlantic real estate agent and retail executive, Joan was a solutions-oriented, self-described “workaholic”—someone not used to giving up. So she quickly started applying her business acumen to her health concerns.
And that’s when she found Moffitt.
“Moffitt was conducting an open forum on lung cancer on a Saturday, and I decided to attend,” said Joan. “During the breakout session, I was able to have a face to face meeting with Dr. Gerald Beplar, who was then Moffitt’s head of thoracic surgery.”
Joan told the doctor her most recent diagnosis (from a physician not affiliated with Moffitt) was Stage 3b inoperable, meaning the cancer had spread from her lungs to other nearby tissue or far away lymph nodes.
“I asked Dr. Beplar, ‘where do I go from here” and he said, “not die.”
From that hopeful encounter, Joan secured a second official opinion at Moffitt before undergoing a clinical trial of chemotherapy and radiation for 8 weeks. She also went on to work with nutritionists and Moffitt’s team care that focuses on survivorship.
“What makes Moffitt so different than any other cancer treatment center is that they give you hope,” said Joan. “From the nurses to the doctors to the researchers, these are people who are so caring and so passionate about what they do.”
Joan says the positive vibes she encountered played a huge role in her treatment. “What these wonderful people at Moffitt do is to humanize science. They talk to you on your level and make sure you know your options.”
“People need to remember that 10 years ago, lung cancer was a death sentence. But with a second opinion at a research facility like Moffitt and with the clinical trails they are conducting—coupled with the highest standard of care—you are seeing the survivor numbers growing every year.
Today, Joan counts herself in those growing numbers—having just celebrated a decade of being cancer free. Grateful for the exemplary care she received, Joan is now giving back to Moffitt by taking on the role of patient advocate. She uses her keen business mind and her experience as a patient to offer valuable feedback on research grant reviews and serve on review panels.
“Because of the major breakthroughs at Moffitt, we are at a point in time where lung cancer is evolving from a death sentence into a chronic but treatable condition,” Joan said.
“It’s right around the corner.”
Joan Tashbar: A Patients Perspective
On the importance of research facilities like Moffitt: No matter where you live, community doctors are typically great, but if you are diagnosed with cancer, then get a second opinion at a research facility like Moffitt. I did and it saved my life.
On the importance of clinical trials: We need to think of lung cancer like a more common condition like viruses or bronchitis. When you have those conditions, you take prescribed antibiotics. If one doesn’t work, you try another until you find the one that does work. Clinical trails can offer the same series of options in the search for successful treatment.
On hope: I’m just one person who has been helped by Moffitt and it’s so great to hear what their scientists are doing on a daily basis and seeing the survivor numbers growing every year. People who once thought they were given a death sentence are now living normal lives.
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