A little over 5 years ago, Robert Rabbin left Australia carrying a heavy load—stage 4 lung cancer that had spread to bones in his spine and hips.
His prognosis: 6 months.
“They suggested I return to the US and just get my affairs in order,” says Robert, a 67-year-old professional public speaker who had been living abroad.
“You need a loving support team. It may be the single most important thing. This is not the time to shut people out.”
He did come home—but not to meet death or fight back. Nearly paralyzed from the fractures in his spine, Robert came home to befriend the malignant neoplasm in his lower right lung. Why not? It was, after all, his cancer.
“I didn’t reject it, yet I wasn’t convinced of anything either,” he says about the prognosis he was given. “Intellectually, we all know we’re going to die. But spiritually, I knew there was more for me to learn about my life and my cancer.”
His quest landed him on the doorstep of Cedars-Sinai’s Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute.
“His symptoms were severe,” says Dr. Ronald Natale, medical director of the institute’s Clinical Lung Cancer Program. “But I thought there was a very good chance an aggressive approach would work.”
After identifying the specific gene mutation driving Robert’s cancer, Dr. Natale started him on an oral drug, erlotinib hydrochloride (Tarceva).
“Because some drugs are better tailored to certain mutations, identifying Robert’s mutation was key to figuring out which therapy to use,” says Dr. Natale.
“New, targeted therapies are becoming standard practice in lung cancer treatment. Specifically targeting the EGFR gene—the most common mutation in non-smoking related lung cancers—has played a central role in advancing patient outcomes in recent years. For Robert, who has never smoked, this was the right approach.”
Patients given erlotinib have about a 60-70% chance of getting better, according to Dr. Natale. Robert also underwent chemotherapy to enhance the chances of a good outcome. It worked.
That was 4 years ago.
Then, in May 2016, the cancer became resistant. Tests indicated tumor growth. Dr. Natale put Robert back on chemotherapy, in addition to the erlotinib he was already taking. The cancer had metastasized to his brain. Robert underwent radiation to combat the brain tumor.
Today, he’s doing well. Other than a little stiffness, he’s relatively pain free. His cancer, although still present, is under control.
“What Dr. Natale and his team have done for my family is incredible, and we hold them in the highest regard,” says Sandra, Robert’s sister. “When Robert got back from Australia, the situation was dire. Today, he’s so much better. Cedars-Sinai saved my brother’s life.”
A cancer patient’s advice
Robert has some advice for other patients:
- Embrace help. After his initial diagnosis, Robert sent a video message to friends and family about his condition. His sister, who lives in the same building, was by his side every day for the first 2 years, when he was mostly confined to bed. “You can’t do this alone,” he says. “You need a loving support team. It may be the single most important thing. This is not the time to shut people out.”
- Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up. Prior to his diagnosis, Robert spent 50 years traveling the world in pursuit of spiritual growth, 10 of them under the tutelage of a meditation master. “It was never about fighting, winning, or surviving,” he says. “It was about completing my quest. I responded by embracing my cancer. Spiritually, I was truly discovering myself and how I wanted to live the rest of my life.”
Robert is a grateful patient and supporter of the Campaign for Cedars-Sinai. Learn more about the Campaign.
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