LCRP Consumer Peer Reviewer
Ending the stigma associated with lung cancer and increasing funding for research is especially important to Yovana Portillo, a consumer reviewer for the Lung Cancer Research Program (LCRP). Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, accounting for 25% of all cases, and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) makes up 84% of all lung cancers.1 Yovana celebrated her five-year “cancerversary” and was deemed cancer-free from stage IB NSCLC in July 2021.
Yovana’s diagnosis was one of accidental discovery – quite literally. She was involved in a motor vehicle accident, requiring a routine follow-up at the emergency room. While the impact of the motor vehicle accident was minimal, resulting in some soft tissue damage, she was informed of a mass located on her left lung that would require further follow-up. A pulmonologist initially tested her for Valley Fever, which is a fungal lung infection common in Arizona, where she resided at the time. With a negative result, further testing included a positron emission tomography (PET) scan and a lung capacity test. These tests assess the amount of remaining healthy lung tissue and ensure the patient’s organs are healthy enough to withstand the stress of surgery on the body.2
Due to the location of the mass and the results of the PET scan, a thoracic surgeon suggested a computerized tomography (CT)-guided biopsy, which revealed cancerous cells in the mass located on her left lung. With no indication that she was sick, appearing otherwise healthy, she was diagnosed with stage IB Invasive Mucinous Adenocarcinoma NSCLC in 2016. Following her diagnosis, she underwent a lower left lobe lobectomy where the entire lobe containing the tumor was removed. Being in stage 1B meant the cancer was contained to her lungs and hadn’t spread to her lymph nodes or other organs. Surgical removal is the preferred method of treatment for these cases, if it can be performed.2
After receiving genetic testing, Yovana’s genetic counselor informed her that the results revealed a non-genetic lung cancer, and that she was not a carrier for any genetic mutations of lung cancer. Based on the stage of cancer and her age, her oncologist believed that radiation or chemotherapy was not a good fit for her; she was declared “No Evidence of Disease” post-surgery. Her follow-ups began with three-month CT-scans and have moved to yearly observational scans, and she continues to remain proactive with this routine to monitor any future changes.
Outside of spending time with her family and friends, Yovana combines her passions for hiking, yoga, and running with her lung cancer patient advocacy work to contribute to her community in many different ways, such as yoga at the Cancer Support Community Arizona or a 5K run with LUNGevity or LUNG FORCE ™. She is active within many other groups, including the Lung Cancer Foundation of America, GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer, and American Lung Association © -Arizona.
Although she participates in many associations dedicated to lung cancer,
“I feel that all the organizations have the same long-term goal in common to end the stigma associated with the disease, to make lung cancer screenings available in order to witness more early detection survivors, and to increase research funding for more long-term survivors,” Yovana said.
She said she feels similarly about the work she does in LCRP and the program’s goals.
As someone who has lived the experience, Yovana believes each patient is a part of a whole with the scientific community. Each component brings unique perspectives and valuable knowledge. Together, they can work to improve future patient lives and produce better outcomes for those with lung cancer.
Yovana’s advice to everyone is, “Everyone’s story or journey is unique. Do not compare your process/progress or lack thereof with anyone else. Give yourself grace to allow your story or journey to unfold in its own due time.”
The views, opinions, and/or findings contained in this paper are those of the author(s) and should not be construed as an official Department of Defense position, policy or decision.
1Lung Cancer Guide | What You Need to Know. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer.html
2Surgery for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer | Lung Cancer Surgery. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer/treating-non-small-cell/surgery.html
Last updated Monday, November 6, 2023