Katherine Bensen is grateful for every breath. In 2014, Katherine learned her persistent cough was caused by stage IV non-small cell lung cancer. By the time she was diagnosed, the disease had already spread to her lymph nodes, chest and spine. Katherine was a young, healthy non-smoker. Lung cancer was not on her radar. "I was devastated and I didn't know what to do or what that meant," she tells The Bemidji Pioneer. "And now I do."
In the years since her diagnosis, Katherine has learned the hard truth of the disease, which claims more lives each year than colon, prostate, ovarian and breast cancers combined. She's also learned a key to successfully fighting it: clinical trials, which allow researchers to test new drugs and treatments and give patients options — and hope — when standard treatments fail. "I've exhausted four different targeted-therapy drugs," Katherine tells KSTP-TV.
But thanks to clinical trials, doctors at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus have had something new to offer her each time a therapy has failed. And that, KSTP reports, has allowed Katherine to beat the odds. "The five-year survival rate for people diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer that has spread to other areas of the body (or metastasized) is just 5 percent," the station notes.
Through clinical trials, doctors hope to discover effective treatments that lead to improved survival rates. But they need more patients like Katherine to help them make those discoveries. "We have an abundance of new medications in cancer treatment, and what we are lacking is more patients to participate in clinical trials," Julian Molina, M.D., Ph.D., Katherine's oncologist, tells KSTP. Dr. Molina encourages people to "consider clinical trials for two reasons. One is because they have a good chance of benefitting you as a patient." The other, he says, is "the chance of helping others."
Katherine is grateful to patients who came before her and took that chance. "If other people had not done these clinical trials I would not be here today," she tells the station. "I am definitely living proof that research matters and clinical trials matter."
In addition to participating in clinical trials, Katherine has become an advocate for lung cancer awareness. She's "dedicated to the cause," KSTP reports. As is her father, former Minnesota Congressman Rick Nolan. After Katherine's diagnosis, he helped create the Congressional Lung Cancer Caucus, which "serves as a clearinghouse of information to aid Members of Congress in their understanding of the issues surrounding those who are living with and those who are at risk for lung cancer."
And as Katherine knows, that means everyone. "Anyone with lungs can get lung cancer," she writes on A Breath of Hope, a Lung Foundation blog. "I am you!"