March 13, 2024

Diane gets back to traveling thanks to precision therapy of lung cancer

Diane and Scott Althaus standing on the Italian coast with the Ligurian Sea behind them
Diane Althaus and her husband, Scott, in Eze, France, in November 2023.

Diane Althaus, 67, and her husband, Scott, have always loved the outdoors. Whether it was hiking the national parks or walking their dog every morning, the married couple of 37 years enjoys spending time in nature. It wasn’t until one morning that walking became an exhausting task for Diane.

It was on Dec. 9, 2019, when Diane began to feel her symptoms all at once: difficulty breathing and immediate fatigue while exerting herself. After consulting her general practitioner, she spent the entire day in the emergency room searching for an answer.

“My husband met me there that Monday morning, and after testing all day long, at about quarter to five, they came in and told me they thought I had lung cancer,” Diane said.

On Friday the 13th, she got the call confirming she had stage IV lung cancer. No one is ever prepared for a cancer diagnosis, and Diane was in complete shock. She and Scott had hiked the Rocky Mountains just a few months before without any problems.

“It was very upsetting,” Diane recalled. “It was amazing that I could go from completely healthy in September to having stage IV lung cancer in December.”

She came to UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center for treatments, which included various chemotherapies, targeted medications, and immunotherapies. Unfortunately, Diane’s body rejected most of these treatments, and she developed severe side effects.

“My health was on a downward spiral. I had lost 40 pounds,” Diane said.

By May 2022, she was in hospice care and not expected to live past the summer. However, she miraculously regained strength over the next few months and was encouraged by her family to be reevaluated for possible treatment.

Searching for new options, Diane met with Dr. Nataliya Uboha, a medical oncologist at Carbone Cancer Center who also leads the Early Phase Oncology Therapeutics Team. Looking at genomic testing of Diane’s cancer, Uboha realized she had a unique alternation in a gene called B-RAF.

“It really just took another set of eyes to look at everything and say, hold on, you’ve never actually had successful treatment for this particular mutation,” Uboha said.

Genomic testing shows that each tumor has a unique combination of molecular changes, and for some patients, oncologists can identify the alteration that is the main “driver” of their cancer growth. New treatments are being developed, called targeted agents, that turn off those driver alternations and stop new cancer spread.

“I tell my patients that we will do everything to learn as much about their tumor as we can. Because even if the chances of us finding something like this are small, the implications are huge,” Uboha explained. “We have to look, and we have to do these molecular tests to learn more about people’s tumors.”

Diane has had an incredible response to this targeted therapy. She feels good and has not dealt with difficult side effects.

“Her quality of life has been great,” Uboha said. “We’ve not only given her time, we've also given her her life back.”

Diane gets scans every two to three months, and they’ve been able to space out her former monthly checkups to six to eight weeks. Taking full advantage of this life, Diane has continued to travel with her husband and family all over the world. Her journey with cancer is a testament to the power of love and hope in times of uncertainty. It’s her family and friends, her “circle of love,” that give her the strength to live every day to the fullest.

“During my first year of treatment, I experienced several months of inactivity. If I can make meals, do laundry, and just do the everyday life things, that is a joy to me,” Diane said. “Without Carbone, Dr. Uboha, and the hope they have provided, this (recent) European trip would not have been possible. They gave me hope. I did not just run with it, but I flew with it.”