Apparel industry executive Steve Cara was 52 years old when he learned from his insurance agent that he had cancer. He had just taken a blood test to increase his life policy’s value. The diagnosis: lung cancer.
What was your immediate reaction to the news?
I was devastated. My biggest concern, though, was my family. My wife is a wonderful homemaker. We rely on my income—and now I was uninsurable. But I was determined to get ahead of this problem and understand it. I’m not the type to crumble and collapse. I saw my family doctor—he referred me to MSK.
MSK’s Dr. Robert Downey recommended that you get a PET scan of your body before beginning treatment—why?
A PET scan would determine if I had tumors elsewhere in my body—the treatment approach would be different
if there were. And the scan did find another tumor, in my stomach. An MSK surgeon operated on me. He was great! He said, “You have a hernia so I’m going to fix that too—it’s a twofer.”
The doctor was there when I woke up, and the news was not good. The cancer in my stomach was the same type as the lung cancer. So not only had it spread—it was Stage IV and inoperable. My life expectancy was three, four years. But then the physician said, “we’re doing some new things here,” and he connected me to Dr. Matthew Hellmann.
Had you heard of immunotherapy before?
No, I hadn’t. But I was hopeful. Dr. Hellmann put this great science into plain English, so we could easily understand it. My family and I felt very comfortable. I started immunotherapy in December 2014, and by March, my tumor had shrunk 50 percent. I was feeling stronger—I knew it was working for me.
How are you doing now, three-and-a-half-years later?
I have no cancer. None. The immunotherapy shrank my lung tumor and made it operable. And when the surgeons took out that part of my lung, there was no cancer. It was amazing.
I have been cancer-free for two years now and it’s because of MSK. The physicians there have understanding, foresight, and compassion—they worked together as a team, they saw a way out. I feel like the most fortunate person in the world.
Learn more about recent progress outsmarting lung cancer and opportunities to create more effective treatments.