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Lung cancer patient, non-smoker: ‘Anyone with lungs can get cancer’

Lung cancer patient, non-smoker: ‘Anyone with lungs can get cancer’

It started with a mild cough that wouldn’t go away. Now Shauna Dalton is taking meds twice a day to protect her body from the spread of lung cancer.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

She doesn’t sign up for public speaking engagements and she doesn’t take a bullhorn out on the street corner to announce her platform. What Shauna Dalton does is quietly tell others that smoking isn’t the only cause for lung cancer.

This month during Lung Cancer Awareness Month, Dalton has chosen to tell her story – how she became one of those “unsuspected cases” of lung cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates 228, 820 new cases of lung cancer this year. That’s 116,300 men and 112,520 women. Lung cancer is the leading causes of cancer death in men and women making up 25 percent of all cancer deaths.

Dalton had just turned 51, was running, playing golf, eating healthy, working as a school librarian, and had never had a major surgery in her life when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Two months had passed since she started coughing during Labor Day Weekend. By November when the cough was hanging on she decided to leave work, pick up some lunch and pop into an urgent care to be checked out. An x-ray was performed and a mass showed up on Dalton’s lungs.

“I dumped my lunch in the trash. I was stunned,” said Dalton, who lives in Bloomington. She made an appointment with pulmonologist, Dr. Eric Trueblood at IU Health Hospital Bloomington. A bronchoscopy followed and the Monday after Thanksgiving 2018 she learned that she had lung cancer. She was then referred to Dr. Danielle Doyle, an oncologist with IU Health Hospital Bloomington. Dalton’s specific form of cancer is a non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC), accounting for 85 percent of all lung cancer. She is among the estimated five percent of NSCLC patients diagnosed with anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK).

“It’s a specific genetic alteration and when we got the results it was like I won the lottery because even though it is terminal, there is now a treatment for this type of lung cancer,” said Dalton. Twice daily she takes a tyrosine kinase inhibiter (TKI), an oral medication that she says has few side effects. “The research and treatment have come a long way in the past decade. This drug blocks the cancer’s growth and division,” said Dalton. “It’s been almost two years and I feel pretty good and because of this new drug the survival rate is now 51 percent after five years.”

On November 30th she will celebrate her 30-year anniversary to Ken Dalton with a trip to Texas. Together they have a son, two daughters, and five grandchildren.

“My grandson was born in April and there was a point when I wasn’t sure I’d live to see my grandchildren,” said Dalton, who continues to make visits to her oncologist and pulmonologist, along with getting regular blood work and scans.

“I feel great and I draw my strength knowing that God does his best work in the lowest places. Faith gives you peace and hope.”

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Lung Cancer

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.