‘They saved my life’

Archive, Month, November

Following her doctor’s recommendation for a screening, Mary’s lung cancer was found in its earliest, most treatable stage.

“It can’t hurt you.”

Some simple words convinced Mary to make an appointment for a low-dose CT lung cancer screening.

Mary’s primary care doctor, McLaren Macomb’s Dr. Gail MacIntyre, knowing her patient was a smoker, recommended the screening.

For 35 years, Mary had been “about a pack-a-day” smoker. Knowing this greatly and obviously increased her chances of developing lung cancer, she took the advice of Dr. MacIntrye, who, after 30 years as her patient, she holds an immeasurable level of trust.

“The radiologist called the next day,” Mary said, having undergone the screening at McLaren Macomb. “He said they found a ‘small dot.’”

The diagnosis was not cancer. It wasn’t really anything yet other than an area to keep an eye on and continue to monitor. For at least the next few years, Mary would have to get the same scan every six months.

But it wouldn’t take a few years. Within 18 months from her first scan, a team of physicians would have a reason to take action.

“Those people, that hospital,” she said. “They saved my life.”

Lung cancer screening

The low-dose CT lung screening Mary had is the only way to screen for lung cancer in its earliest, most treatable stages.

Mary had never experienced any of the symptoms often associated with lung cancer, but she had met the criteria for the screening: a current smoker (also with a history of being a heavy smoker) and over the age of 55.

If she had already begun experiencing symptoms, the chances greatly increased that the cancer had advanced to the point when traditional cancer treatments would need to be considered. This also brings the potential debilitating side effects.

Catching lung cancer early gives the patient the best odds to treat it before those more intensive treatments become necessary.

‘You’re going to get through this’

Following the advice of her doctor, Mary got the same screening every six months.

With two unchanged scans over the first year, she prepped for her third, 18 months after Dr. MacIntyre’s original recommendation. Feeling fine, she had no reason to think this third scan would go any different than the first two.

“I cried,” she said upon receiving the news that the ‘small dot’ had now developed into a cancerous nodule on her right lung. “I was shocked. I was not expecting bad news — I was expecting it to be like last time.”

Referred to McLaren Macomb pulmonologist Dr. Bryan Barnosky, he strove to quickly reassure Mary.

“He said to me, ‘You’re going to get through this,’” she said.

While her doctors had caught it early, they still moved quickly. Mary underwent a PET scan to determine if the cancer had spread and, if so, to where and to what extent. The results, too, would decide the course of Mary’s treatment.

But, with the screening allowing for the earliest possible detection, the PET scan came back clear, and the cancer remained localized to a small portion of her right lung.

“The tests came back, and it was not in the lymph nodes,” Mary said. “It was nowhere to be found.”

And in terms of her treatment — thanks again to the advantage of early detection — Mary would get to avoid radiation and chemotherapy and would be able to rid her body of its cancer with a surgical procedure.

Dr. Kristijan Minanov, a thoracic surgeon at McLaren Macomb, removed the cancerous portion of Mary’s lung, and he was there to check on her soon after.

“He visited me every single day I was there, and he has the best bedside manner,” she said.

As a follow-up, Mary would continue getting those same lifesaving scans every three months for the next couple of years. But she was cancer-free.

“I was spared the chemo and radiation. It took part of my lung, but I’ll take that over death,” she said. “That scan, that’s saving your life. If not for that scan, I probably would have died.”