Linda Wernikoff – Lung Cancer Patient Story
In 2019, Linda Wernikoff, 77, had a cough that just wouldn’t go away. The Mt. Lebanon resident admitted that at the time, she wasn’t the best at keeping up with her regular check-ups. But, when she couldn’t shake her cough, Linda called her primary care provider.
Three weeks later, her doctor followed up with her to see how she was feeling. Since she still had a chronic cough, her doctor ordered her a CT scan.
“I was driving when she called with the results,” Linda says. “I needed to know. I told her ‘If you’re calling me, this doesn’t sound good.’ I wanted honesty, and she knew that I could take anything.”
Linda’s doctor delivered the bad news: she had cancer – stage 3A non-small cell lung cancer.
“It was a shock,” she says. “No one in my family smokes and I was never exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke. My mother lived to 94 and my father had a heart problem. We knew we should all watch our hearts; we would never have thought about our lungs.”
After Linda was diagnosed in August, she decided to spend some time away with her two sons and their wives. In September, she underwent a precautionary surgical procedure to remove the left lower lobe in her left lung and 31 lymph nodes so they could be biopsied.
Customized Medical Care
In February 2020, she went through four rounds of chemotherapy – always on a Wednesday, every three weeks.
“The first one was pretty hard, but Dr. Burns was able to adjust the next rounds for me,” Linda says. “After seeing other people go through so many more treatments than me, I felt thankful.”
Linda, who owned a cooking school for more than 30 years, had been retired for some time now, but she remained active during her treatments. She continued to take walks and worked on puzzles.
When she was finishing up her last chemo treatment, Dr. Burns called to tell her about a recent study that was done on patients using the drug osimertinib. The study showed great results for patients with Linda’s specific type of cancer who previously had surgery.
“Dr. Burns told me he wanted me to come in for it. He was like an excited kid with so much enthusiasm. He said people who took it were 80% less likely to have their cancer come back,” Linda says.
Linda began taking the medicine and returned to UPMC Hillman for regular check-ups every three months for a year, then twice a year after that. In the third year after treatment, she only needed to see Dr. Burns annually.
“Waiting a whole year made me feel nervous,” says Linda, who is now cancer free. “Finding out about the drug when I did was good timing. I feel so lucky.”
Linda continues to stay active by playing pickle ball, gardening, and working with a personal trainer.
Linda's treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.