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Tinley Park Mom battles cancer with help from new partnership

Connie Soderlund, 37, of Tinley Park, mother of four was a “picture of health.” She ran, biked, swam and ate a healthy diet. But in September 2009 she was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Connie Soderlund, 37, of Tinley Park, mother of four, had none of the usual bad habits. She was a “picture of health.” She ran, biked, swam and ate a healthy diet. But in September 2009 she was diagnosed with lung cancer.    

Connie never smoked. She never developed the classic cough. The pain began in her leg. It hurt when she ran, then when she walked. Finally she saw an orthopedic surgeon, who determined that it was a tumor that had spread to her bone from its original site in her lung.    

Her first bit of good luck came when cancer specialist Lawrence Schilder, D.O., medical director of the new University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center at Silver Cross Hospital, designed a treatment that relieved the pain and got her into remission.    

One year later, when she had a relapse, Dr. Schilder shifted her medications and was able to induce a second remission. But after a few months, blood tests revealed that the cancer was not completely gone.    

So Dr. Schilder called colleagues and arranged for her to see lung cancer specialist Ravi Salgia, MD, PhD, director of thoracic oncology program and vice chair of translational research at The University of Chicago Medicine.This led to another lucky break. A genetic test showed that Connie had a rare form of lung cancer, caused by the fusion of two normally unconnected genes. Dr. Salgia was a national leader in the clinical trials of this drug, known as crizotinib, developed to inhibit the cancer-causing fusion gene.    

The drug “worked wonders for me,” Connie  said. It caused none of the side effects associated with traditional cancer chemotherapies and the nodules on her lung scans disappeared. She returned to something like a normal life. “I hardly felt sick,” she recalled. “I started swimming again.” She enjoyed eight months of an “absolutely normal life.”    

In January 2012, however, the scans revealed new lesions in her bones, requiring surgery, followed by nearly a month of recovery in Silver Cross Hospital. Now back at home, she is going through a third cocktail of chemotherapies, under Dr. Schilder’s gentle guidance. This produced yet another remission.     

“I have been so fortunate to have two groups watching out for me,” she said, “Drs. Schilder and Salgia, plus the delightful home nurse, and therapists. Every trip, south to Silver Cross or north to the University, was worth it.”    

“Not so long ago, we would have run out of options by now,” Dr. Salgia said. “Now, I can think of a fifth, sixth, or seventh-line therapy.”    

For the moment, Connie has other plans. “My goal for right now is to get back to being a good wife and mother again,” she said.  “That’s what’s most important for me, some quality time with my family, to check up on their school work and to play with my little guy.”    

“We are proud of our new partnership that blends the highest quality cancer care with renowned expertise of The University of Chicago,” Dr. Schilder said.  “Patients can now get world-class cancer care in their own community, the best of academic medicine with the comforts of home.    

Beginning June 25, Connie and other area patients will have convenient access to The University of Chicago Medicine specialists and advanced and investigational therapies close to home in the University of Chicago Medicine  Comprehensive Cancer Center at Silver Cross, in the new Carolyn J. Czerkies Pavilion on the Silver Cross Hospital campus, at I-355 and Route 6 in New Lenox. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 1-855-UCM-1400.    

Grand Opening Celebration
The community is invited to take a tour of the new Cancer Center on Tuesday, June 19, from 5 to 7:30 p.m.  Convenient parking  is available on the Silver Cross Hospital campus–follow the special event parking signs.  In addition to tours, outside the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center at Silver Cross Hospital there will be a farmer’s market, complimentary healthy refreshments, and raffle prizes including Sara Evans concert and Chicago White Sox and Joliet Slammers baseball tickets.  Baseball legend Ron Kittle will be signing autographs throughout the event.  At 5 and 6 p.m., Joliet Park District’s Head Horticulturalist Kevin Eberhard will be speaking about container gardening for your health.  And Harrah’s Joliet Casino and Hotel’s Executive Chef John Woods will hold cooking demonstrations at 5:30 and 6:30 p.m.   

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