In March 2011, Janet Freeman-Daily had a slight but persistent cough. She was about to take a family trip to China, so she asked her doctor for an antibiotic as a precaution. On the flight home from China, however, she and her husband, Gerry, began showing signs of a respiratory infection. His symptoms cleared
up, but hers didn’t. Then she started coughing up blood.
“We knew something was wrong,” Gerry says.
Freeman-Daily went back to her doctor, who once again
prescribed an antibiotic. But her cough kept getting
worse. On May 4, 2011, she had an X-ray, which revealed
a 6-centimeter mass in her left lung.
Freeman-Daily had a CT scan the same day and
received the results by phone just as she arrived at home.
“I was walking in my front door, and they told me it was
suspicious for carcinoma,” says Freeman-Daily, who was
then age 55. On May 6, she had a bronchoscopy, a procedure in which a tube with a small light and camera
is inserted into the trachea. An analysis of the biopsied
tumor specimen showed she had aggressive non-small
cell lung cancer.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in
A BACKGROUND IN SCIENCE
the U.S. and accounts for a quarter of all cancer fatali-
ties, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). An
estimated 234,030 people will be diagnosed with lung
cancer in 2018, and an estimated 154,050 will die of the
disease. Smoking causes most cases of lung cancer, but like
Freeman-Daily, many people with the disease have never
smoked. Overall, the prognosis for lung cancer patients
is poor. The five-year survival rate for all types of lung
cancer is only about 18 percent.
Janet and Gerry live south of Seattle in Federal Way,
Washington, not far from where Janet was born and
raised in Tacoma. She was heavily influenced by her
father, who was a medical doctor and engineer. “He very
much encouraged my interest in math and science,” she
says. That interest brought her to the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology in Cambridge, where she majored
in mechanical engineering.
After graduating in 1978 and returning home to
Washington, she joined the company that her grandfather
had founded and that her father then ran, which designed
and manufactured autopilot systems for fishing boats. A
few years later, Freeman-Daily moved to Los Angeles to
take a job with the Space and Communications Group at
Hughes Aircraft, where she worked on communications
and remote sensing satellites. Her employer paid for her
to attend graduate school at the California Institute of
Technology in Pasadena, where she received a master’s
degree in aeronautics in 1984, as well as an engineering
degree in aeronautics in 1986.
In 1989, Freeman-Daily’s cousin Frances, a single mother
who lived in Connecticut, died of glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. Freeman-Daily, who was 33 and
unmarried at the time, adopted Frances’ 3-year-old son,
David, and returned to the Seattle area. “I really wanted to
come home—I needed the support of my family,” she says.
There, she joined Boeing’s Defense and Space Group, where
she met her husband in 1991. In true Pacific Northwest
spirit, she and Gerry were married on a snowbank on the
slopes of Mount Rainier a year later.
Before starting treatment for her lung cancer, Freeman-Daily needed to take a month of antibiotics to clear up
severe pneumonia—a common and sometimes fatal infection among lung cancer patients. In June 2011, Freeman-Daily was healthy enough to start treatment. She began
35 days of radiation treatment and also took doses of the
Janet-Freeman Daily stands before a poster she presented
at the AACR Annual Meeting 2018 in Chicago. The poster
explains the Global ROS1 Initiative, an effort to drive research
that benefits patients with the ROS1 mutation.