Duke doctors on the cutting edge for lung cancer

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- For Mary Prough Lung Cancer Awareness Month is a celebration of life.

The Triangle area resident was first diagnosed with the dreaded disease when she was just 38. She was a smoker and a young mother of two.

"Back in 1983 lung cancer was a death sentence. And to be diagnosed with that so young and have such a young family," was devastating the Prough, now 74, told ABC11.

But she got lucky.

It was early stage one cancer and surgery to remove part of her lung got it all.

She also quit smoking.

"I had my last cigarette on the gurney going in to have my right upper lobe removed."

But 30 years later, after she and her husband retired to home near Fuquay-Varina, she got sick again.

Doctors thought she might have pneumonia. A chest x-ray showed lung cancer.

"Again I was devastated."

She underwent surgery and another lobe of her lung was removed.

Everything looked good until a cat scan during a check-up six months after the surgery; this time it was stage four cancer.

"It had metastasized. It was in my other lung. They could not operate and I was told there was nothing they could do," she recalled six years later.

She went to Duke University Medical Center for a second opinion. Oncologist Jeff Crawford also told her things didn't look good.

She asked if there were any experimental drug trials.

"He thought about it and he said, 'Well, as a matter of fact there is one starting. It was immunotherapy."

Dr. Crawford said up to that point immunotherapy trials hadn't produced many positive results.

But Prough was willing to give it a try.

"There was some optimism," the doctor said adding, "But I don't think anyone could have thought that this might be a long term success, this single therapy."

But it was.

Three years after starting the drug that would eventually be known as Tecentriq, Dr. Crawford gave her his verdict.

"I was diagnosed - no evidence of disease," she said.

That same year Tecentriq was approved for the open market.

Dr. Crawford says that drug along with other immunotherapies are now saving more and more lives and explained the theory behind them.

"Boost the immune system. Have the immune system attack the cancer directly. It's a much more sensible way to manage cancer. If the body can destroy the cancer itself without the need for chemicals, that's wonderful," he said.

And two years later Prough is still cancer-free.

Now she is giving thanks and giving back.

"I was so grateful that I visited people in the hospitals. I spoke for the American Cancer Society," she said.

She is also doing volunteer work with cancer patients and is hopeful that one day researchers can make immunotherapy work for everyone like it did for her.
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