Osakis teacher spreads word about lung cancer
OSAKIS, Minn. — For the past four years, lung cancer survivor Shelly Engfer-Triebenbach has been sharing her message — if you have lungs, you can get lung cancer.
It's that plain and simple, she says.
And not only has the Osakis resident tried to spread that message across the United States, she recently traveled to Germany where she took part in a global patient panel with the pharmaceutical company Boeringer Ingelheim.
Engfer-Triebenbach was nominated by the Lung Cancer Alliance, a leading non-profit organization dedicated to fighting lung cancer, that she is heavily involved with. She was asked in September to be a part of the one-day panel, which took place on Oct. 27. The company wanted input from lung cancer patients from around the world.
A total of 24 people were on the panel, including eight survivors with Engfer-Triebenbach the only one from the United States.
On that panel, Engfer-Triebenbach said she learned how blessed she is to live in a place where lung cancer is researched and different medications and clinical trials are available.
"The U.S. may have its struggles, but nothing compared to other countries," she said. "It is hard to fathom that some people living with lung cancer don't have medications readily available. I just can't imagine it."
She said hearing from other lung cancer survivors about the struggles they faced was eye-opening and heartbreaking.
"To have this disease is hard enough, but then to not have any options, I just can't imagine," she said.
She explained that this spring, after being on her first clinical trial for two-and-a-half years, she had to switch to a different clinical trial after her cancer began to grow again. In July, she switched to a different clinical trial that required her to travel to Boston every three weeks. She is still part of this clinical trial and now travels to Boston every six weeks. She will be in this trial as long as her body can handle it and/or there is no cancer growth.
She also noted that the drug she took while she was in the first trial, received federal approval.
And in addition to being on the patient panel in Germany, Engfer-Triebenbach also spent time in Washington, D.C., with the Lung Cancer Alliance as part of the National Lung Cancer Summit, where she spoke with Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., who has a daughter with lung cancer.
"He is a shining light in the fight for lung cancer," she said. "We are thankful for his leadership."
A focus this year while at the nation's capital, Engfer-Triebenbach said, was the number of people who are dying each day from lung cancer.
"There are 433 Americans a day who die from lung cancer — 433 each day," she said. "This should be declared a national tragedy. People just don't get that."
Engfer-Triebenbach said although there are people who are trying to change things for lung cancer patients, there is still more to do, especially when it comes to funding and research.
"If people are so moved, they should contact their legislators," she said. "That's how things change."
Engfer-Triebenbach is trying to do her part when it comes to funding. She hosted a Painting for a Cause and Silent Auction, a Shine a Light Lung Cancer Alliance fundraiser on Nov. 17 at the Osakis Lutheran Church. All proceeds from the event will be donated to the Lung Cancer Alliance.
Engfer-Triebenbach, who is an Osakis music teacher and also the director of the Greater Minnesota Children's Choir, lives in Osakis with her husband, Scott, and two children, Kadyn and Chase.