JAN 08, 2018 1:09 PM PST

Stage IV Lung Cancer Patient Climbs Peaks in Nepal

WRITTEN BY: Julia Travers

Andy Lindsay, a 61-year-old from Massachusetts, achieved his goal of climbing the Mera Peak in Nepal in October 2017. Lindsay is an avid and experienced climber who has had Stage IV lung cancer for three years. He is benefiting from a clinical trial of targeted therapy with a drug called EGF816.

Mera Peak, credit: creative commons via Indra Rai

While every year, more people die from lung cancer than from breast, colon and prostate cancers combined, targeted therapies like the one Lindsay is receiving can sometimes help cancer patients have more successful remissions and more active lifestyles, The New York Times reports. One of Lindsay’s doctors, Dr. Tomas Neilan, is the director of the cardio-oncology program at Massachusetts General Hospital. He told The Times the therapies are “taking Stage IV cancer and turning it into a chronic disease no different than high blood pressure.”

“To live one year was statistically unlikely, and two years looked like a miracle,” says Lindsay of his health. He announced his plans for the journey on his Caring Bridge page (an online health journaling community), along with his related fundraiser for lung cancer research, in September. Lindsay and his wife, who is an outdoors enthusiast as well and a nurse, spent three weeks climbing to Mera Peak with eight other climbers and a couple of guides.

At its altitude of over 21,000 feet, Mera Peak air pressure is reduced to 70 percent lower than sea level. At these heights, climbers of all levels of experience are at risk for experiencing health problems including altitude sickness, pulmonary edema and cerebral edema. While Lindsay had climbed and trekked in the Northeast of the U.S. and in Nepal on previous occasions, taking this journey with lung cancer was unprecedented, and no data on previous similar undertakings could be found. Neilan described his success as “remarkable.”

Lindsay has a type of non-small-cell lung cancer that is characterized by a mutation in a gene called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), which is involved in cell growth. He took a first-generation oral EFGR inhibitor in 2014 to keep the cancer cells from growing. He had a positive response to this course of care but his remission ended within a year. A biopsy showed the cancer had become resistance to the drug. Mera Peak, credit: creative commons via Indra RaiNext, in 2016, he enrolled in his current trial, of a drug called EGF816 – a third-generation EFGR inhibitor that was able to target the resistance his cancer had developed. “Upon oral administration, EGF816 covalently binds to and inhibits the activity of mutant forms of EGFR,” the National Cancer Institute explains.

Lindsay reports feeling better and breathing easier days after the trial began. So, he began to resume his beloved outdoor activities like biking in the months that followed. He also enjoyed traveling and playing in his band. Before the trek in Nepal, two “small, slow-growing” nodules were detected in his lungs. But he was given the OK from his doctors, who prepped him to be aware of telltale signs of climbing-related health problems such as headaches and coughing up blood. Veteran guides led the trip up Mera Peak, including an Everest expert and E.M.T who is also head of the Parks Canada rescue service. A team physician also participated in the climb.

While Lindsay stayed at the rear of the hike for much of the trip, taking frequent rests, he picked up speed at the higher altitudes and joined the front of the pack.

Massachusetts General Medical Oncologist Dr. Zofia Piotrowska concentrates on treating the type of cancer Lindsay has. She supported his climb and celebrated his success; “This is an example of something that none of us ever thought would be possible a few years ago,” she says.

About the Author
  • Julia Travers is a writer, artist and teacher. She frequently covers science, tech, conservation and the arts. She enjoys solutions journalism. Find more of her work at jtravers.journoportfolio.com.
You May Also Like
MAY 16, 2020
Cancer
Red Blood Cells: More than just an Oxygen Delivery Service
MAY 16, 2020
Red Blood Cells: More than just an Oxygen Delivery Service
The human body is a complex network of systems that often interact and affect each other. Recent work shows that red blo ...
MAY 18, 2020
Cancer
How do Ohnologs affect Cancer?
MAY 18, 2020
How do Ohnologs affect Cancer?
Genetics can be complicated to say the least. Sometimes it can be as simple as a single mutation in one gene that causes ...
JUN 01, 2020
Cancer
Spit in the vial to test your cancer risk
JUN 01, 2020
Spit in the vial to test your cancer risk
A Stand Up To Cancer program is trying to improve access to genetic testing for those who might be at risk of hereditary ...
JUN 29, 2020
Cancer
Mass Spectrometry and How It Can Profile Cancer
JUN 29, 2020
Mass Spectrometry and How It Can Profile Cancer
Treatments for cancer usually revolve around targeting certain immune checkpoints in the cell. Protein cell death protei ...
JUL 10, 2020
Cancer
Why do black men suffer disproportionately from prostate cancer?
JUL 10, 2020
Why do black men suffer disproportionately from prostate cancer?
Cancer disparities by race are widely acknowledged. One in every six black men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in ...
JUL 15, 2020
Cancer
Mortality rate disparities in hospitals with different star ratings
JUL 15, 2020
Mortality rate disparities in hospitals with different star ratings
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services' "Star Rating" system compares the quality of care of hospit ...
Loading Comments...