Barb Ogden — Lung Cancer Patient Story
“It’s always been the three of us,” says Barb Ogden, a single mom of two grown children. Her daughter Jess and son Matt both live close to her home in Bethel Park and describe their mom as someone who’s always been healthy, busy, and active.
One summer evening in 2017, Barb felt sick to her stomach, then vomited and coughed up blood. She called Jess, who insisted they go to the emergency department at their local hospital. At first doctors suspected a stomach ulcer, but tests revealed devastating news. Barb had stage IV non-small-cell lung cancer, with an inoperable tumor near her collarbone and tumors in the lymph nodes around her lungs.
Though she’d had a mild cough in the weeks leading up to her diagnosis, Barb has suspected allergies—not cancer. Most patients with advanced cancers like Barb’s are considered terminal, with no possibility of cure, but can undergo various treatments that help manage their conditions.
Barb met with Robert VanderWeele, MD, a medical oncologist at St. Clair Hospital Cancer Center, affiliated with UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. She remembers Dr. VanderWeele telling her that she’d be in treatment for the rest of her life, but that they would take everything one step at a time. Barb underwent a few different types of treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy, but after a few months her cancer had continued to spread.
Dr. VanderWeele and his colleague Liza Villaruz, MD, a medical oncologist at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Shadyside, talked with Barb and her family about changing her treatment plan. In March 2019, she began taking two different chemotherapy drugs along with pembrolizumab, an immunotherapy treatment that works by blocking a protein that can trick the immune system into not recognizing and fighting cancer cells. She eventually stopped the chemotherapy drugs and continued with pembrolizumab alone, with good results—scans showed that Barb’s tumors had begun to shrink.
Barb continued treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic but faced a new challenge: visitor restrictions meant Jess and Matt couldn’t join her during her treatment sessions. Barb credits the caring, supportive staff—especially the nurses—for helping her get through those difficult months, and Jess and Matt were grateful that their mom had a team of people who could be there with her when they couldn’t be.
In June 2021, Barb got great news: her scans showed no evidence of cancer. She feels very fortunate to be doing as well as she is with stage IV disease that usually results in a grim prognosis. Today, she remains in treatment to keep her condition under control and is grateful for each day she gets to spend with her kids.
Barb's treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.