Young mother who survived lung cancer wants all Californians to have access to lifesaving care – CBS Sacramento
When Tabitha Paccione started having coughing fits and severe fatigue in 2015, doctors couldn’t figure out why.
For 10 months, doctors were confused and Tabitha received misdiagnoses and ineffective treatments. Eventually, after a doctor found a tumor on her left lung, Tabitha learned she had lung cancer. Worse still, it had spread to his bones, liver, lymph nodes and brain.
After this shocking turn of events, Tabitha sought expert care at a comprehensive cancer center, where doctors created a personalized treatment plan to battle her disease. His doctors identified a rare mutation that had triggered his cancer. A few weeks after receiving drugs targeting this mutation, Tabitha felt better.
Tabitha’s story illustrates the complexity of cancer care. Unlike the management of common diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes, cancer care is different.
Rapid advances in cancer science have created targeted therapies that have dramatically improved survival over the past 25 years. However, too many Californians cannot access the expertise, treatment options and clinical trials that would be optimal for their cancer diagnosis.
That’s why Californians believe it’s important to increase access to specialty cancer care in California. A coalition of leaders across the state is fighting for broader access to experts specializing in complex cancer types, innovative clinical trials, and advances in personalized cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Tabitha is one of the voices in this fight for equity in cancer care.
“The best form of my life”
Before the coughing started, Tabitha was an energetic schoolteacher and soccer mom from Cypress, California. She had always been healthy, watching what she ate and working out regularly. “I was in the best shape of my life,” she said.
But bouts of coughing came out of nowhere, disrupting her classes and leaving her breathless. Her stamina evaporated and she needed help with daily activities.
After nearly a year of seeking help, Tabitha had many misdiagnoses, but no relief. Doctors had attributed the cough to bronchitis, pneumonia, allergies and acid reflux. She was prescribed antibiotics, cough syrup, antihistamines, steroids, but the cough persisted.
When a prune-sized nodule appeared on her neck, more doctors and multiple scans provided more questions than answers.
Finally, a CT scan looking for something else picked up a two-inch tumor on Tabitha’s left lung. “Lung cancer was the last thing on my mind,” she said.
Tabitha was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer with metastases to bone, liver, lymph nodes and brain. She was 35 and had never smoked.
Expert Care brings confidence and a plan
Ravi Salgia, MD, Ph.D., has pretty much seen it all.
With more than three decades in the trenches battling lung cancer, Dr. Salgia has contributed to so many breakthroughs in so many areas that he now believes “we are in the midst of a revolution” in lung cancer care. Cancer.
Tabitha remembers not only Dr. Salgia’s expertise during their first consultation, but also his humanity and caring approach.
“He has this soothing spirit in him,” she recalled. “He brought so much peace to the room.”
Two days after their first meeting, they pursued a plan of action. Since Tabitha’s cancer was stage 4, Dr. Salgia ordered a nine-hour infusion of the powerful chemotherapy drug Taxol.
Chemotherapy caused toxicity issues and some neuropathy. But Dr. Salgia had a plan for the next course of action.
“We are never satisfied with just one treatment for a patient,” he said. “We are always aggressively looking for the next thing. We always ask, ‘What else, what else, what else?’ »
Why is cancer care different in California?
Thanks to extraordinary medical breakthroughs and the care of specialists like Dr. Salgia, a diagnosis of cancer is no longer a death sentence for many patients.
Yet too many cancer patients are not benefiting from the advances now available – and, sadly, too many people are dying from it. Less than 50% of cancer patients in California have access to care that meets national guidelines.
Having insurance coverage does not guarantee access to the treatment most likely to save your life. In fact, Californians with cancer on Medi-Cal suffer worse outcomes for many types of cancer than average.
The Cancer Care Is Different coalition wants Californians on Medi-Cal and all forms of insurance to have increased access to optimal care for their cancer diagnosis.
For patients who receive a complex cancer diagnosis, this often means receiving care from experts who specialize in their type of cancer. It may also involve access to clinical trials or the latest advances in precision medicine, where diagnoses and treatments are tailored to patients’ unique cancer types.
Relief at last
This type of specialized care is what Tabitha received. Dr. Salgia turned to DNA testing to find out more about Tabitha’s cancer. His illness turned out to be a rare variety that could be treated with a drug known as an ALK inhibitor.
“[Dr. Salgia] was so excited. I heard him smile when he told me he had great news, that we had this treatment and I could take it in pill form! said Tabitha.
A few weeks into treatment, Tabitha felt like a different person. The tumors started to disappear. His energy returned. And at the end of 2019, after three long years, Dr. Salgia told Tabitha that she was finally in remission.
Tabitha is now giving back, sharing her story in the hopes it will help ensure more Californians have access to optimal treatment for their own cancer diagnosis – just like she did.
More than 180,000 Californians are diagnosed with cancer each year, and “everyone deserves a chance to get an early diagnosis followed by personalized cancer treatments, no matter how insured they are,” he said. she stated.
To learn more about Cancer Care Is Different’s work to promote equity in cancer care in California, visit www.cancercarediff.org.