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October 31. 2013 10:05PM

Motivation and inspiration

Amherst woman inspires others about cancer fight


Linnea Duff of Amherst says, “I have accepted the cancer and the terminal diagnosis, and I believe that is the key to survival.” (Courtesy)


Linnea Duff 

AMHERST — For Linnea Duff, cancer has been a permanent part of her life for the past eight years, a daily struggle that she has finally accepted and is ready to share with the world.

"At first, I tried to convince myself that this was anything but cancer. Now, I have accepted the cancer and the terminal diagnosis, and I believe that is key to survival," said Duff, 53, of Amherst.



Duff was diagnosed with lung cancer in April 2005 after never having smoked. Although her initial diagnosis was Stage 1B, after three years of treatments she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in 2008.

"I was told to get my affairs in order and essentially asked to learn how to die," said Duff. But, in a last ditch attempt to prolong the time she has left with her three children, Duff became the fourth person in the world with non-small cell lung cancer to participate in a clinical trial involving an experimental ALK inhibitor called Xalkori therapy.

Seven weeks later, Duff's oncologist showed her scans prior to the clinical trial and post the trial therapy.

"I had almost a total response. Prior to the trial my left lung was crowded with cancer, but post trial there was nearly no cancer," she said.

Despite the positive news, Duff was warned that the cancer will eventually find its way around the inhibitor, which has already occurred. It has been a roller-coaster ride for Duff, who has begun blogging about her experience with lung cancer and even had the opportunity to be interviewed by Charles Gibson on "ABC World News."

Motivational speaker

This week, she will serve as a motivational speaker for the Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk. Duff will speak to 2,000 participants about early detection and the importance of funding for lung cancer research.

Clinical trials have been a blessing in disguise for Duff, who initially underwent surgery, to have a portion of her left lung removed, and traditional chemotherapy. However, targeted therapies through various clinical trials have enabled Duff to live life to the fullest during a trying time, she said.

"Targeted therapy inhibitors have much fewer side effects and can significantly improve a person's quality of life," said Duff, who is taking a break from treatments due to resistance to a clinical trial.

Still, she hopes that a new ALK inhibitor will be available in a month or so and she will be an ideal candidate for the trial.

"Each day I wake up and I say, 'I'm alive, I'm alive, I'm alive," said Duff, who is excited to share her story in Boston this weekend. "All of these people have been touched by lung cancer somehow, and I want my message to be inspirational, respectful and cognizant of those that have passed from this illness."

More importantly, Duff said she wants those in attendance to realize that although life isn't always fair, raising funds for more research provides hope for those who may be living with lung cancer decades from now.

"Lung cancer has struck far too many people — taken far too many people," she added.

"But I have learned to embrace what frightens me. I know that I am going to die, but the fact is, we all know that about ourselves."

Her short-term goal is to live long enough to see her son, 16, graduate from Phillips Exeter Academy.

The Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk will take place Saturday in South Boston. It aims to raise $250,000 to support the LUNGevity Foundation, an organization that funds the most promising lung cancer research nationwide, according to a release.

khoughton@newstote.com


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