In the fall of 2009, Matt Ellefson had a nagging cough similar to a seasonal allergy. He thought nothing of it until his symptoms began to get worse. It turns out, that lingering cough was actually the beginning of Matt’s battle with lung cancer.

Before his diagnosis, Matt Ellefson thrived in his career as a successful engineer and in his personal life as a devoted husband, father and fitness fanatic. At age 47, he was in outstanding shape as he exercised regularly, ate well and never smoked.

But in fall 2009, Matt’s life changed completely. His doctors informed him that he had late-stage lung cancer. Even with treatments, they predicted that Matt had a five-year survival rate of less than 5 percent. An optimist, Matt attacked his treatment head on. He achieved remission following months of incredibly aggressive treatments. Unfortunately, this relief was short-lived – the cancer came back in 2011.

Then one day, an internet search on lung cancer treatments changed the trajectory of Matt’s treatment. He learned how some doctors were testing lung cancer patients through genetic tests, which could provide clues and information for their treatment. His doctor ordered a genetic test that could determine if Matt’s cancer tumor had a rearrangement of the ALK gene. Matt's test results revealed he was ALK positive, which indicated that he was eligible for a targeted treatment.

With a new course of action, Matt responded positively to his therapy and started to regain his strength. In fact, he trained for a half marathon that he ran in 2012. "You never really appreciate how blessed you are with family, friends and accomplishments until the day you realize that it can all be taken away from you," Matt said.

Living Cancer-Free

Without this innovation in cancer diagnosis and treatment, Matt likely would not have been able to accomplish all that he has today. Being tested for the ALK genetic rearrangement and receiving a targeted therapy has enabled Matt to share valuable time with people he loves most. He watched his wife go back to college and complete her degree in health science. He celebrated his granddaughter’s fourth birthday. He witnessed his son marrying the love of his life.

"I feel fortunate to live in a day that cancer can be treated so quickly. And the quality of life you can live is fantastic," Matt said.


Matt completed a half marathon in 2012 following a second round of treatment for lung cancer.

Giving Back

As he battled his disease, Matt shifted his focus from himself to what he can do for others. He used his personal experience to support others facing similar challenges. In July 2013, Matt founded SURVIVEiT, a non-profit organization that uses web-based tools and apps to help cancer patients find hope. He created a resource for cancer patients to rate their care, connect with other patients and have access to actionable information.

"It's my obligation to do this," Matt said. "One of the greatest sins is having the ability to help and doing nothing about it."

For more information about personalized medicine and companion diagnostics:

  • Read how Abbott is helping turn the practice of personalized medicine into realties for specific patients by reading cancer-survivor stories
  • Learn how personalized medicine and companion diagnostics are playing an increasingly large role in oncology