Don't Be an Ostrich! Get Screened
Lung cancer isn't only a smoker's disease. I actually know more people who never smoked who have lung cancer than that did.
Sadly, because even medical personnel too often believe that only smokers get lung cancer, non-smokers and, especially, never-smokers, are often not diagnosed until their cancer has reached late-stage. Actually, even smokers are often not diagnosed until their cancer has metastasized.
No warning sign
The thing is, lungs don't have feelings. So, while cancer is growing in our lungs, most of us are happily living out our lives, oblivious to what is happening behind the scenes.
I didn't have a single known symptom. I actually did have one warning sign -- a minute knot had appeared on my collarbone. I had noticed the little bump but was totally unconcerned about it. It didn't hurt and it was really small. I felt it and thought, if I thought anything at all, that I had a little cyst or something.
Thankful for my astute PCP
Lucky for me, I had a previously scheduled doctor's appointment not long after the knot appeared. Luckier still, my primary care doctor (PCP) was very thorough and very astute. She, too, felt the knot. But, she was far from lackadaisical about it.
Because I had a prior smoking history, my PCP rushed me off that very day to have a CT scan. I'd never had a CT scan before. (Boy! How times change!! Now, I have lost count of how many I've had.)
It was only a few days later that I got the call from my physician suggesting that I might need to undergo a PET (positron emission tomography) scan. I'd never heard of such a scan but agreed that I would go as soon as one was scheduled.
No way it's cancer
I didn't want to admit that I didn't know what a PET scan was so I waited until after I got off of the phone with my doctor to google it. I learned that these scans are usually ordered to look for cancer, dementia or heart issues. I was pretty sure I didn't have dementia or heart problems, so I decided the doctor must think I had some kind of cancer.
But, because I had absolutely no symptoms, other than that little painless knot that I didn't even realize was a symptom, I had no idea what kind of cancer she suspected. I was just barely 59 years old and in as good of shape as I had ever been in my life. I had quit smoking four or five years earlier, was running agility with my dogs six days a week, working full time, and feeling great.
I was close to "too late"...
So, when I learned that I not only had lung cancer, but I had stage IV lung cancer and a prognosis of only four months left to live, I was shocked. I asked my oncologist when I would have learned I had lung cancer had it not been for that fateful visit to my PCP.
I'll never forget his response. It was scary. He said that we probably would have realized I had lung cancer when I ended up in the hospital with pneumonia. And, he said, I probably would have never left the hospital alive.
Lung cancer screening requirements
While not available to just anyone, there is a screening tool for lung cancer. And, because this disease is so sneaky, it is of great importance that anyone with a smoking history submits to regular low-dose screenings.
Here are the requirements to get the screening:
- You must be age 55 to 80 years of age
- You must have a 30 pack-year smoking history
- You must be a current smoker or have quit within the last 15 years.
According to the American Lung Association, this screening can save your life. If lung cancer is caught in its early stages, the likelihood of surviving five years or more improves to 56 percent.1
Don't be an ostrich! If you meet the requirements, please, schedule a screening test today! It may be the most important call you make.
Do you find that staying zen through your lung cancer diagnosis has helped you in your journey?