Without ever picking up a cigarette or having been surrounded by clouds of smoke throughout her life, Leah Bochnicek was stunned when her oncologist uttered two words: lung cancer.
Five years ago, Bochnicek was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer with the ALK mutation. This mutation, according to verywellheath.com, is only present in 3 to 5 percent of people with non-small cell lung cancer.
“We were shocked,” Bochnicek said. “I was a working mother of three with a normal healthy life.”
When doctors spotted the cancer, it had already reached the outside of her lung. Because it was outside of the organ, Bochnicek said, doctors couldn’t simply remove it.
Even with chemotherapy treatment, doctors said, there was only a 17 percent chance of survival.
With three active children, a full-time government job and a husband, who is a Papillion native, the 42-year-old Bochnicek couldn’t imagine leaving the world behind.
“I think we are beyond those days where you accept what you’re told,” she said. “There’s too many options.”
A few weeks after her diagnosis doctors prescribed Crizotinib, a new drug that was recently approved by the FDA. The pill is a receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor used to treat non-small cell lung cancer.
With the intent to slow the growth of her tumor and hopefully stop it from spreading, Bochnicek said, doctors made no promises.
After 10 months of taking the pill, the tumor was gone. However, doctors are still hesitant to use the phrase “cancer free.”
“I guess I am miraculously cured,” she said.
Bochnicek said doctors cannot guarantee the tumor isn’t lingering in there somewhere, but in her eyes, she’s living a full life five years later.
If it wasn’t for researches finding a way to combat the rare ALK mutation, Bochnicek wouldn’t be raising three children with her husband, Tim, today.
“This is why we are so supportive of research,” she said.
In 2015, the Bochniceks started the Lungs4Life Foundation to raise awareness as well as money to combat lung cancer.
So far, the foundation has donated a total of $65,000 to the Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in Omaha through the University of Nebraska Foundation.
“It’s a drop in the bucket in the world of research,” Bochnicek said.
Through the foundation, Bochnicek said she hopes to donate $100,000. However, she said, lung cancer carries a certain stigma as most people assume it is always caused by smoking.
“Lung cancer is a ‘dirty cancer.’ If it was pediatric cancer or breast cancer, we would get so much more support,” she said.
Bochnicek said she wants to educate people about lung cancer to let them know that no one is immune.
By spreading the message through her foundation and continuously making efforts to support the researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Bochnicek is grateful for what science has given her.
“I just try to celebrate every day and try to be thankful,” she said. “It’s such a blessing I’m still here.”
To donate, visit lung s4lifefoundation.org.