2018-19 Cancer Network Annual Report

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Frank McKenna | Sentara Cancer Network Survivor

Striking Back

Frank McKenna remembers being stunned when his doctor told him the annoying cough he was experiencing was a symptom of lung cancer.

“I thought, ‘You’ve got the wrong chart. This can’t be right,’” said Frank, 57, a personal trainer in Virginia Beach who received the news in the summer of 2016.

When Frank first saw his primary care physician in June 2016 for a nonproductive cough, his doctor prescribed antibiotics and allergy medicine. When the cough failed to clear up, Frank had a chest X-ray that revealed his left lung was full of fluid.

Making the Diagnosis

Doctors diagnosed Frank with stage 4 lung cancer in July 2016. The cancer had also spread to various bones. His doctors were surprised that someone with his condition wouldn’t have felt winded just walking to the mailbox, but Frank, who works out five days a week, had no trouble breathing or with fatigue.

Since Frank was a nonsmoker and extremely healthy, his oncologist, Dr. Gauri Radkar, ordered tests on the lung fluid that pointed to a genetic link to the cancer. Frank took a daily chemotherapy pill as the first line of treatment and received two weeks of radiation on his left femur. Unfortunately, the McKennas received more difficult news shortly after Frank’s diagnosis when his daughter, Kaitlyn, was diagnosed with melanoma on her right ear. They rallied around each other.

“My family has been unbelievably supportive through this whole situation,” Frank said of his wife of 34 years, Debbie, and their three grown kids. “They’ve helped with everything I’ve needed. They’ve been fantastic.”

Adjusting the Treatment

A few months into taking his daily chemo pill, Frank felt awful. He had no energy or appetite. He’d lost weight. It was November and his family feared he wouldn’t make it to Christmas. His scans showed the cancer was progressing.

Dr. Radkar ordered more in-depth genetic testing that isolated a gene mutation, T790M. Frank switched to a new daily chemo pill, which targets that specific mutation; he began feeling better within days.

Giving Back

Frank, who was treated at several Sentara hospitals, receives monthly infusions and takes calcium supplements to strengthen his bones. Scans show the medication is keeping the cancer from spreading. He also sees a Sentara cardiologist to make sure his chemo pill isn’t harming his heart, which has been fine.

“Today I feel perfectly fine,” Frank said. “My mindset is I’m going to beat this. Even if it hasn’t happened before, there’s no reason I can’t beat it with all our medical advances.”

Frank’s license plate, “WIN DAY,” shows his philosophy that he shares with his personal training clients to “win the day.”

“Win the day. Don’t give up. Make history,” he said. “Some days you may not win, but you will wake up and win tomorrow.

“Cancer changes your whole life,” Frank said. “I want people to know that we are in this together. Here’s a guy with stage 4 lung cancer and he’s doing the same thing. If I can inspire even one person I’m all for doing what I can do to help.”