Understanding how the disease evolves is the key to stopping it.
In early 2014, Laura Brealey was visiting her daughters in Singapore when she slipped on a marble floor and cracked her hip. She had it replaced, but in the process, the surgeons noticed that her breathing sounded odd, and told her to speak to a respiratory specialist. At her daughter’s urging, she did so when she returned home to London, England—and was told that she had lung cancer.
The doctors moved quickly. That same August, they cut out part of her right lung, and gave her both radiotherapy and chemotherapy. The tumor disappeared. Things were looking promising. But the following summer, Brealey started experiencing fresh pain in her ribs. The cancer was back.
When I meet Brealey in April 2016, in a brightly colored room at University College Hospital, she’s about to start her third drug—a new one called nivolumab that her doctor, a young oncologist named Charlie Swanton, is hopeful about. As he preps her for the new treatment, he is also thinking about how to manage the severe pain that the tumor is causing, as it presses against the nerves that run along Brealey’s ribs. “It hasn’t been easy for Laura,” says Swanton. “When I first told her she couldn’t go back to Singapore to visit her family...”