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November 23, 2022

Breast cancer researcher learns firsthand about lung cancer

Breast cancer researcher learns firsthand about lung cancer

Both professionally and personally, Alesha Arnold was well aware of one cancer. But, when she heard her own diagnosis, it was a complete shock.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, TJ Banes,

She is a nurse and she lost her mother at a young age due to complications from breast cancer. Alesha Arnold was vigilant about self-care. She was followed by the high-risk breast cancer clinic, and had regular screenings.

Her mom passed in 1996 and Arnold became a nurse the following year. For the past 13 years she has worked in the Clinical Trials Office of IU School of Medicine, specializing in breast oncology.

“I wanted to be a nurse because I’ve always enjoyed helping others and after losing my mother to breast cancer, I had a real desire to make a difference. There are so many opportunities in nursing,” said Arnold, 48.

In 2019, she was met with some unexpected news. After experiencing a chronic cough and intense pain in her back and side, she visited her primary care physician. Tests followed and showed a mass. She was diagnosed with Stage Four lung cancer. Years earlier, Arnold’s grandfather had also been diagnosed with lung cancer.

Married, and the mother of two daughters, Arnold has been a non-smoker throughout her life, At IU Health, she is in the care of oncologist Dr. Shadia Jalal. Since her diagnosis, Arnold has gone through TKI therapy and is currently taking a chemo medication.

“Right now we’re trying to stabilize my disease or get it to improve,” said Arnold.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and Arnold shares her story hoping to educate others that non-smokers are also at risk for lung cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society Lung Cancer is the second most common cancer (not counting skin cancer). In men, prostate cancer is more common; in women, breast cancer is more common. About 236,740 new cases of lung cancer (117,910 men and 118, 830 women) were predicted this year. Most people diagnosed are 65 and older with a small percentage diagnosed younger than 45.

In an article from Indiana University School of Medicine, IU Health Dr. Nasser Hanna, talks about an initiative, “End Lung Cancer Now.” Dr. Hanna specializes in Multi-D oncology and is an advocate for education and awareness.

“We know through data on stigma that breast cancer is viewed as victimizing women. Lung cancer is viewed as, ‘You got what you deserved,’ which is beyond cruel,” Dr. Hanna stated. “No one deserves lung cancer.” In 2020, Indiana was ranked fifth among the states with new cases.

For her part, Arnold, has partnered with “End Lung Cancer Now” advocating for education. Key to her platform is eliminating tobacco use in Indiana, making screening available to all eligible patients, and increasing participation in lung cancer research. Arnold recently received the Lung Cancer Hero Award, at the International Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) 2022 North American Conference on Lung Cancer.

Her nominator wrote: “Arnold is a quiet strength and an amazing fortitude that attracts so many of us to her. She is an advocate for always doing what’s right and moving the educational bar of awareness forward in her community. She has brought awareness of lung cancer to her family, sorority, colleagues, church family, friends, and even those she doesn’t know.”

In addition to sharing her personal story, Arnold, her husband and daughters organized a wood cutting event to create white ribbons. The White Ribbon Project started two years ago to build community, reframe education, increase awareness, and remove the stigma against the lung cancer community.

“The thing that gets me is lung cancer is the number one killer and we don’t get as much awareness as other cancers. I think it’s partly because of the stigma that people have - like lung cancer is associated with smoking,” said Arnold. “Hopefully, when people see people like myself who have never been smokers, then they will realize that anyone can get lung cancer.


Lung Cancer

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IU Health provides screening, diagnosis and treatment options for lung cancer, a disease that develops when cells grow without proper regulation in the lungs to form a mass or tumor.

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