Dr. Michael Weitz was given three to six months to live when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Fourteen years later, he’s sharing his story of recovery.
Dr. Michael Weitz, a physician who practices emergency medicine, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2006. “I was having trouble swallowing, and as a physician I thought in the back of my head, this is how it begins,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking lung cancer, I was thinking lymphoma or some other cancer, but after multiple consultations with my medical specialist and various tests, it finally confirmed a diagnosis that seemed like it came out of the blue: advanced lung cancer.”
Even as a physician, Dr. Weitz was surprised to learn that he had lung cancer even though he had never smoked. “I came to learn that 15 percent of patients that develop lung cancer never smoked at all,” he said. “Typically, there’s a genetic predisposition, but the known carcinogens include not only tobacco smoke but pollution.”
Dr. Weitz was told that he would have three to six months to live. “In 2006, there weren’t a lot of treatment options for lung cancer,” he said. “Basically, treatment hadn’t changed in forty years since Nixon declared a war on cancer. I had chemotherapy followed by radiation and surgery to remove my entire left lung.”
The cancer then spread to Dr. Weitz’s brain and spine, requiring more surgeries. When the situation looked most dire, he was given hope. “It was all thanks to my mother,” he said.
“She’d been watching the national news and there was a story about a man with lung cancer who was basically on his death bed undergoing an experimental treatment called targeted therapy for his specific kind of lung cancer. Remarkably, eight weeks later, he returned to normal life and had an 80 percent reduction in his lung cancer. My mom begged me to get my lung cancer tissue tested for the same type of rare lung cancer mutation, and it turned out, miraculously, that I had the same mutation. My mother saved my life.”
Targeted therapy based on biomarkers is less invasive and can be more effective than chemotherapy and radiation. “Most of them are pretty simple to take, they’re oral medicines,” Dr. Weitz said.
Dr. Weitz now sits on the board of the Lung Cancer Foundation of America, where he advocates for more funding for lung cancer research. “There was very little federal funding for lung cancer because of the preponderance of breast cancer and other cancers,” he said. “Lung cancer took a back seat to breast, colon, and prostate cancer research.” Working with the Lung Cancer Foundation of America, Dr. Weitz hopes to elevate the funding for lung cancer, which is the number one cancer killer, to the level of breast or colon cancer. “For anyone starting their journey that they should visit the LCFA website (lcfamerica.org) because there’s a wealth of information.”
Given his incredible story of recovery, Dr. Weitz speaks to many patients who are suffering from lung cancer and offers them hope. “I tell them to get full biomarker testing on their lung cancer tissue to determine if there’s a mutation that can be targeted by one of the several new targeted therapy drugs that are available today,” he said. “I also tell people to seek out a second opinion with a thoracic oncologist associated with an academic institution, because those people are the ones who specialize in the treatment of lung cancer and have access to the very latest information, technology, and most importantly clinical trials. Without clinical trials, there’s no advancement in the trials.”