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Lung Cancer Survivors On Long Island Rave About Immunotherapy, Which Doctors Say Is Akin To A Cure For Some

MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- There was an inspiring gathering Monday on Long Island. Survivors of lung cancer celebrated life.

Once thought to be incurable, advances in treatment are granting years of quality life, and, in some cases, patients are now cancer free, CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported.

Bells tolled to celebrate life, including the life of 55-year-old Christina Lamarca, who remembered her heart-stopping prognosis with stage 4 lung cancer.

"They basically gave me three months to live," Lamarca said.

That was five years ago. She then enrolled in a clinical trial of immunotherapy at NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center and has lived to meet her grandchildren.

"Life is worth living for. I'm going to keep going. I ain't going anywhere," Lamarca said.

Janeen Johnson-Gallo, a mother of five, also received a hopeless diagnosis.

"In the back of my mind, it was oh my God, it's a sentence for me," Johnson-Gallo said.

She, too, has been on breakthrough therapies. Ten trial participants gathered in Mineola as living proof that those with advanced lung cancer, the most lethal of all cancers, can survive.

"We have many such patients that are here today that were presented, essentially, with a death sentence," said Perlmutter Cancer Center's Dr. Jeffrey Schneider.

Immunotherapy is an antibody.

"Treatments that enable the body's own immune system to recognize a cancer and eradicate it. So, we are really just enabling our own defense as opposed to pushing poisons to kill cancer," Schneider said.

Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in the U.S., with a quarter of a million Americans diagnosed each year. Immunotherapy is increasing survival more than five years.

Frank Crescenzi, one of the first in at the trial, is going on 11 years, a gift of time to watch his grandchildren grow up.

"That's a big thing, that's big," Crescenzi said.

"It's a miracle," his wife, Nancy, added.

Immunotherapy doesn't work for everyone, but doctors say in 20% of cases, it is akin to a cure. The other 80% can try a second generation of treatment.

"Here I am, ringing the bell, very hopeful about the future," Johnson-Gallo said.

They celebrated life and the health care workers making it possible.

Immunotherapy is now an approved lung cancer treatment, and patients no longer have to be enrolled in a clinical trial to receive the treatment.

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