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Lung Cancer Screening Saved My Life

September 30, 2019

Linda Wilber, 64, decided to be more proactive about her health more than 12 years ago. She and her husband, Stephen, quit smoking, started to grow and preserve their own vegetables, recommitted to regular exercise and jumped on any opportunity to take charge of their health.

So when a friend told Linda about the low-dose CT lung cancer screening available at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, she signed up herself and her husband.

“I drag him along for everything,” she says.

A smoker for 30 years, Linda knew she was at risk for lung cancer. Smoking, in fact, is the biggest risk factor for lung cancer, accounting for 85% of lung cancer deaths, according to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. And yet, despite topping the list as the deadliest cancer, lung cancer is not subject to routine screening.

After her first CT scan in 2013, Linda’s nurse navigator, Barbara Hedgpeth, called to let her know her results did not indicate cancer. Because of her history and risk, Hedgpeth advised Linda to repeat the scan in a year.

In June 2014, Linda had another low-dose CT scan. This time, her scan revealed a 0.7-centimeter tumor in her lower right lung. It was characterized as “highly suspicious” for lung cancer. Because the tumor was too small for a biopsy or PET scan, the nurse navigator advised her to return every 3 months for additional scans.

“It took me a couple of weeks to get over the fact that I could have lung cancer,” says Linda, “but Barbara assured me that they were watching me as closely as anyone could. She was a true comfort through the whole process.”

With emotional support and educational resources from her nurse navigator, Linda refocused her energy. Over the next several months and CT scans, she read everything she could about lung cancer while she waited for what seemed like the inevitable.

In March 2015, she got the news. The nurse navigator called Linda to report that the tumor had grown to 0.9 centimeters, still too small for a PET scan. But Linda now had 2 options: She could wait another 3 months or she could have surgery to remove the tumor.

It was a clear choice. “I just wanted that tumor out of my body,” she says.

Linda scheduled an appointment with cardiothoracic surgeon Gregory Muehlebach, MD, who described how he would remove the tumor using video-assisted thoracoscopy. This minimally invasive surgery decreases the chance for infection and allows faster healing.

During surgery, he introduced a small video camera into Linda’s chest via a scope. Rather than a single large incision, he made 3 smaller incisions, known as ports. Through these ports, he accessed and removed the tumor and surrounding tissue from the lower right lobe of her lung. The tumor was about 1.1 centimeters, the size of a thumbnail.

Linda’s tumor was stage 1 lung cancer. Because it was caught early enough, she didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation.

However, in December 2015, when Linda returned for her first 6-month post-surgery scan, it indicated that she may have broncho alveolar carcinoma in the upper left lobe of her lung. A new nodule had formed in her upper right lobe as well, but it was too small to be accurately diagnosed. Linda currently sees her care team every 3 months, as they closely monitor the suspicious areas on her lung. She feels great and remains symptom-free.

From her nurse navigator to her surgeon to the nurses and other care team members at the cancer center, Linda has nothing but praise. She values the lung cancer screening and the care she's received. She also shares her story with anyone who will listen – and with everyone who should.

“I was a nonsmoker for 12-plus years, but cancer can get you anytime,” she warns.

Like far too many of us, Linda has seen friends and loved ones suffer and be consumed by advanced cancer that could have been caught earlier. “The screening saved my life,” she says. “It was a very small price to pay for so much peace of mind.”

Lung cancer screening with low-dose CT

The University of Kansas Health System is determined to help bring awareness and accessibility of lung cancer screening to current and former smokers who have no symptoms of lung cancer. To qualify for low-dose CT lung cancer screening, you must meet the National Comprehensive Cancer Network high-risk criteria:

  • 55-77 years old
  • Currently a smoker or have quit within the past 15 years
  • Smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years

 

Schedule your screening

To schedule a low-dose CT lung cancer screening, or to learn more, call 913-588-1227.

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