In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

May 7, 2019

Patient Shares Story of Lung Cancer and His ‘Miracle for Now’

By In the Loop

A lung cancer diagnosis was unexpected for pastor (and nonsmoker) Kurt Jacobson. But so were the blessings: a medication he was eligible for due to a genetic mutation, and a chance to share his story.


Kurt Jacobson thought it was just a cough. Especially given his healthy lifestyle and past medical examinations, during which he tells the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram his primary care physician would "smile and proclaim me very healthy."

But near the end of 2017, Kurt started coughing. "When he couldn't shake it," the paper reports he made an appointment with his primary care physician that resulted in a diagnosis of sinusitis and a prescription for an antibiotic. But that antibiotic, the paper reports, "had no impact" on his cough.

Still coughing in early 2018, Kurt had a chest X-ray that "suggested pneumonia." Different antibiotics garnered the same non-results. "Showing no improvement," the paper reports that Kurt underwent more extensive testing that finally uncovered the root cause of his cough. Hidden deep within his right lung were "multiple masses" of non-small cell lung cancer. Additional testing revealed the cancer had "spread to his brain," the "bones in his hips and everywhere in between," the paper reports.

For Kurt, a former pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and life-long "non-smoker," the diagnosis was unexpected to say the least. "On the March day I was diagnosed with this lung cancer," he wrote on his CaringBridge site, "I wasn't given a choice. But it was a day God had given me — and one in which there was reason to rejoice."

That reason, the Leader-Telegram reports, would be found at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire. There, oncologist Eyad Al-Hattab, M.D., "told him if his cancer had a genetic mutation, he'd be eligible for targeted therapy" that would help keep it at bay.

It wouldn't be a cure, but Kurt was hopeful when Dr. Al-Hattab gave him that answer. "Only 5 percent of patients with metastatic (non-small cell lung cancer) test positive for this defect in this gene," Kurt wrote on CaringBridge. "I'm happy to be in the minority and defective on the genetic front."

Dr. Al-Hattab started Kurt on a targeted treatment plan that included an oral medication called Alectinib, "a drug," the Leader-Telegram reports, "used to treat a certain type of lung cancer that has spread to other parts of the body."

After six weeks of taking the medication Kurt's cancer scans came back clean, the paper reports. "Gone. Shot out. Blown away are those uninvited cellular intruders which gave me a cough for months," Kurt wrote on CaringBridge. "A miracle for now. A product of extraordinary science all wrapped up in a pill."

Even though he's in remission, Kurt knows his cancer will likely return. "The uninvited intruders aren't gone," Kurt wrote. "This isn't a cure. This cancer will come back with a different genomic mix, so that the Alectinib won't work anymore. Then there will be … some new drug to try in order to keep extending this miracle."

Kurt's hoping to inspire others by sharing his cancer journey at Mayo Clinic, along with a few of his most empowering sermons, in a new book, Living Hope: Powerful Messages of Faith. "If I can help someone else through this book, it's all been worth it," Kurt tells the paper.

You can read more of Kurt's story here (note: subscription required). Then give us something to read by sharing your comments below before using the social media tools to share this story with others.


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Tags: Dr. Eyad Al-Hattab, Lung Cancer, Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Patient Stories

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