June 13, 2017

Cancer patient chooses Nashville for VICC care and the Nashville Predators

Los Angeles native Christina Shaw had two powerful goals when she decided to move cross country to live in Nashville – the first was to support her favorite hockey team and the second was to meet a renowned lung cancer specialist at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

Cancer patient and Nashville Predators fan Christina Shaw (left) visits with Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center physician Leora Horn, M.D., M.Sc., before a Predators game. (photo by Joe Howell)

Los Angeles native Christina Shaw had two powerful goals when she decided to move cross country to live in Nashville. The first was to support her favorite hockey team, the Nashville Predators, and the second was to meet with Leora Horn, M.D., M.Sc., a renowned lung cancer specialist at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC).

Shaw, 33, was already being treated for advanced lung cancer when she made the decision to follow her heart and move to Nashville.

“I think I just figured since I’m terminal I might as well live the rest of my life doing something that makes me really happy, and that’s supporting the Predators. I think by that point I knew enough about Vanderbilt-Ingram …I just picked it, honestly, because it was a major sponsor of the Preds and I did some research and found out it was one of the best [cancer centers] in the country,” she explained.

A previous boyfriend introduced Shaw to the game of hockey on TV and she says it was love at the first drop of the puck.

“I just fell in love with the goalie for the yellow team (Nashville Predators) and I said, ‘Who’s that? Whoever that is, that’s my favorite team…I like this yellow team, just because of Pekka Rinne.’ That’s how I got to love the Predators and the entire team because they have this great strength and all of the community work they do for the city and around the hospital, I love this team so much!”

Shaw didn’t realize then that her love for the Predators would become an important source of inspiration in the following years. After graduating from culinary school and going to work at an airline catering company, she developed a cough that was so persistent and violent that she sometimes threw up. Then she started suffering from a debilitating backache and soon was walking with a cane.

Over the next few months, her doctor ran blood tests and eventually sent Shaw to a hospital emergency room where doctors found a large mass in her right lung.

“They said you may have cancer. They said there were spots not only in my lung but in my liver, my lumbar spine, my hip and my brain. It all hit me at once. They said we need to admit you and start therapy right away.

Shaw’s California doctors eventually found that the non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) had a rare gene rearrangement known as ALK (anaplastic lymphoma kinase) which can be treated with therapies that target the ALK gene fusion. She was on one of those therapies when she decided to buy season tickets for Predators games and move to Nashville.

“When I came here and stepped foot inside the arena and it was a sea of gold jerseys I felt at home and it was so wonderful,” Shaw remembered.

She also found a new home at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) after her L.A. oncologist recommended that she make an appointment with Horn, associate professor of Medicine and clinical director of the Thoracic Oncology Program at VICC.

Horn called Christina “an inspiration. Her passion for hockey and her determination to live a normal life are qualities we can all admire. She has touched many of the providers in our cancer center.”

One of those VUMC providers, pharmacist Marti Goemann, heard that Horn was trying to get Shaw a ticket to a Predators playoff game and decided to give Shaw her ticket.

But the most important form of support occurs in the VICC clinic, according to Horn.

“We’re seeing a growing number of young never smokers like Christina with advanced lung cancer and many of them have tumor mutations that make them candidates for targeted therapy (which attack cancer by zeroing in on specific genetic changes in cancer cells).”

When Shaw’s previous targeted therapy stopped working, Horn recommended a clinical trial for a new drug called ensartinib. Shaw enrolled in the trial and the investigational drug, taken in pill form, is working well with side effects that have been manageable.

“When Christina first started in the study there was really only one other FDA- approved therapy available to her. Now she has three. The promising results we have seen in Christina and other patients enrolled on the trial have led to a Phase III trial we are leading comparing ensartinib to the current standard of care in patients with stage IV ALK-positive NSCLC,” Horn said.

Shaw said the referral to VICC and Horn was a winning combination.

“I feel really grateful that she turned out to be such a great doctor. Even though I know she’s really busy, I never feel rushed with her. I feel like she really cares about me and I’m not just a patient or a number.”

“I feel really fortunate to be a patient at Vanderbilt, to have this amazing team of doctors and nurses. Everything about Vanderbilt is just so awesome and wonderful. I just feel really grateful all the time.”