By Linda Dowling, RN
In my role as lung cancer screening coordinator at Rush, I have the pleasure of working on a program that has the ability to save lives by identifying lung cancer that otherwise would go undetected.
In doing so, I hope to spare my patients and their families the sadness and grief one experiences when diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. I know and understand lung cancer on a very personal level.
To understand my relationship with this disease, one has to learn a bit more about me. Here is my story.
I always wanted to be a nurse. When I graduated from high school, my family encouraged me to focus my career on business. I held positions in advertising and marketing. Looking back, I was always restless and never quite satisfied with my work.
‘Love, laughter, tears’
Fast forward many years to helping my mother, a widowed lifelong smoker, who recently downsized to a senior apartment. Tired and blaming the move for her unsteady gait, in the back of my mind, I wondered if she might have a brain tumor because of lung cancer. My worst fears came true when a few weeks later she was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer that already spread to her brain.
My heart broke when at the time of her diagnosis; her providers could not consult with her, as all she could do is cry. Eventually the tears stopped. She began chemotherapy and had surgery to remove the brain metastasis in the same week. The nearly next two years that she lived were fraught with love, laughter, tears and many, many other health issues.
Following her death, I decided to make a mid-career change to nursing. I quit my job, took the necessary classes for nursing school, and obtained my bachelor of science in nursing degree in two years. I wanted to work in oncology, and frankly very interesting opportunities just fell into place. I worked in an ambulatory infusion clinic, learning as much as I possibly could about oncology. I loved my work, my patients and helping them navigate the challenges and treatments involved with a cancer diagnosis.
Commitment to cancer screening
About three years ago, I learned about lung cancer screening, and I knew with much clarity that this would be the next step in my career. To further my commitment, I became certified to facilitate tobacco cessation classes.
I started at Rush late 2015 as lung cancer screening coordinator RN. This position allows me to use all of the skills that I have acquired throughout my career. I work with Rush providers to inform and educate them about lung cancer screening. I teach tobacco cessation classes and work one-on-one via telephone to help patients quit tobacco.
After a patient completes a scan, I answer their questions. If they smoke, I encourage them to quit smoking. Patients appreciate the support, have said to me “you caught me at the right time,” and begin to move toward becoming smoke free. Finally, I see if patients being screened would like to participate in a research study we’re conducting to create a blood test to identify lung cancer. Often the response is “Sure, anything that I can do to help.”
The original National Lung Cancer Screening Trial said that 320 patients needed to be scanned to find one lung cancer. At Rush our detection rate is higher. After careful evaluation, we have used minimally invasive surgical techniques to remove several early-stage lung cancers. We are seeing that lung cancer screening really does save lives.
As one patient said to me, “You have a wonderful job.” I do and know my experience as the daughter of a lung cancer patient greatly contributes to my dedication and desire to help improve outcomes for this challenging disease.