In 2005 I was about to have my hip replaced due to a congenital defect. A pre-op chest x-ray showed “something,” perhaps a pneumonia artifact, and it was still there 3 weeks later, no bigger. But there was no way I was going to let anything stand in my way of getting that hip fixed! I hadn’t been pain-free for years and now with one leg an inch shorter and no breathing symptoms, I decided to follow up on the chest film later.
With great fear I did follow up with a new internist. He ordered a CT, which confirmed a small tumor; a local pulmonologist ordered a fine-needle biopsy, PET scan, lung function studies and, with shocking coldness, told me I had a malignancy (“that means cancer, you know”) and proceeded to relate the grim survival statistics for lung cancer.
The great thing he did was refer me to UCSF and Dr. David Jablons. My husband and I were driving across the Golden Gate Bridge for my first visit with the doctor when the news reported that Dana Reeve had been diagnosed with lung cancer – and this was the day after Peter Jennings had died. The Reeves lived the next town from us in NY and I began to feel even more overwhelmed and scared.
Dr. Jablons was confident and reassuring in outlining “the plan.” With the help of his wonderful nurse Shayne, I found a local oncologist for the chemo (never get a cancer diagnosis in July/August – most oncologists are on vacation!) and 4 months later Dr. Jablons & his team removed the tumor and the upper lobe of my left lung. My cancer was down staged to IA after surgery; the doctor said my tumor was “well behaved,” having shrunk significantly from the 3-chemo treatments. Dr. Thierry Jahan is my dear best buddy and oncologist now and, 2 Â½ years after surgery, I have graduated to CT scans every 6 months. I couldn’t have had a more compassionate, talented team to get me through this.
I am a survivor – it’s all good!
I won’t say that treatment is easy: thoracotomy & lobectomy are big surgeries and recovery is not a breeze. But now, and for almost 2 years, I work out at a gym, bicycle, walk and do Pilates. We travel the world – chartered a canal boat in England and toured China, climbing the Great Wall and cruising the Yangtze; took safari through South Africa & Botswana, and will be cruising the Lower Danube this summer, followed by a safari to Tanzania where we’ll celebrate our 25th and my 60th! Australia next! Life is indeed good!
As for those who say that lung cancer screening doesn’t save lives, I couldn’t disagree more. My chest x-ray was serendipitous, tipping me off to the need for follow-up – if not for that warning, I would likely not be writing this. It will be wonderful when there are tests other than CT scan, less expensive and less potentially harmful, to screen for lung cancer. And research is underway to develop these. But in the meantime,
we need to shout awareness of lung cancer issues to our neighbors across the country; we need to calm our fears & demand screening; we need to contribute to research efforts to develop other screening methods and, finally, we need to fund the efforts of doctors and scientists searching for treatments and cures for this horrible beast, lung cancer.