By: Karen Rak
My older sister was diagnosed with lung cancer in July of 2005. She died less than four months later. She had quit a four-pack-a-day smoking habit some 25 years earlier. A woman of athletic ability and lots of energy, she had lived for five years in Afghanistan, regularly trekking in the high Himals, even while smoking.
So in January of 2006 I had my first low-dose computerized tomography chest scan. I qualified because of family history and smoking history (I had quit a longstanding two-pack-a-day habit in 1992. I think it was that awful cough that convinced me).
As it turned out, I had several nodules in both lungs, so the 2006 CT scan became the baseline. I was scanned once a year from then on, to track any change in the nodules. There’s nothing to the scan, by the way.
In 2010, my newly-hired primary physician refused to issue a prescription for that year’s CT scan because of the radiation in the machine, notwithstanding that the one chest scan contained similar amounts of radiation as mammograms (a successful method for detecting breast cancer early, when it can be cured). “It’s dangerous,” my doctor said, “and I won’t be a party to it.”
So my gynecologist wrote the “low-dose chest CT without contrast” prescription.
In 2012, the scan exposed changes in one of my nodules. It was followed up by a needle biopsy, then a minimally invasive, video-assisted wedge resection of the offending nodule. It was adenocarcinoma. Slow-growing cancer.
I was pronounced cured and discharged 48 hours later and was climbing Blue Hill Mountain in Maine 72 hours after that.
My family and friends were extravagant in their shouts of joy and relief and congratulations on “getting through it” and “you old trooper” and the like. I have to tell you, it was not that big a deal. Even the pain was minimal and didn’t last long.
The truth is, I’m no great hero, and this wasn’t hell. Early screening for lots of other cancers is standard, because it works; because early screening leads to a cure.
For more information about your risk and where to go to get screened visit: www.atriskforlungcancer.org.