A Message of Hope for Lung Cancer

Immunotherapies have changed how we treat the disease

Philip Bonomi, MD

By Philip Bonomi, MD

One of the things I learned early on in medical school is never to forget that it’s a privilege when a patient puts his or her trust in you to take care of them. I have never taken that privilege lightly. My goal has always been to prolong meaningful life and relieve suffering for my patients. That’s been my personal mission statement throughout my career.

And those goals are not always easy when it comes to treating lung cancer. When I started out in medicine, some of the treatments we tried for lung cancer were simply not effective. There were not a lot of options for our patients and often the prognosis was poor.

But through my long career, I have seen that perseverance, believing in an idea and not giving up on it can pay off.

Enter immunotherapies. When I was in medical school in the late 1960s, we had high hopes for immunotherapy. We thought it was going to be very important for treating patients with cancer. But then, we saw one failed study after another over the next few decades.

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Fear Not the Colonoscopy

Doctor's orders reminder for colonoscopy examBy Thurston Hatcher

So if you haven’t heard already, March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. And if you have, you’ve probably also heard a few reminders that it’s time to get that colonoscopy you’ve been dreading.

As an employee of a health care institution, I consider it my professional obligation to inform you that I’ve had one, and it ain’t that bad. Want to hear more? Perhaps not, but I’ll tell you anyway.

Colonoscopies generally are recommended for people age 50 and older, since they account for more than 90 percent of colorectal cancer cases. The procedure, which involves running a thin, tubelike instrument through the colon, helps doctors spot precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer.

As it happens, I wasn’t quite 50 when I had mine, but I had a few minor symptoms that might fall into the “cause for concern” category. My primary care doctor and gastroenterologist weren’t particularly alarmed, but they wanted to play it safe, and they figured I was close enough to my golden years to experience this rite of passage.

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Gina’s Story: Catching Lung Cancer Early

gina-story

Gina meets with medical oncologist Marta Batus, MD, and thoracic surgeon Christopher Seder, MD.

As a lifelong smoker, Gina knew the risks of smoking — but, like many people, she pushed these thoughts out of her mind.

“For years, my very dearest friend and I would sit on the phone together, have coffee and smoke cigarettes,” Gina remembers. “Then she was diagnosed with lung cancer and died from it. Even though I saw what she and her family went through, I was still in denial that anything could happen to me.”

Taking control

Five years ago, at age 70, Gina got a wake-up call to start taking control of her health: She was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She had a mastectomy at Rush and was soon cancer-free. With a new lease on life, she began running, cut down to three cigarettes a day, and started listening to shamanic drum chants and doing positive-thinking exercises. She also continued her regular breast cancer follow-ups at Rush with medical oncologist Melody Cobleigh, MD, and nurse practitioner Teri Dougherty, NP.

Still, Gina’s smoking history and age put her at high risk for lung cancer. So at an appointment last summer, Dougherty talked to Gina about her risk factors and suggested that Gina was a good candidate for a lung cancer screening test — a low-dose CT scan that can detect lung cancer at its earliest stages, before symptoms arise and when it may be most curable.

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Hearing the Words ‘You Have Lung Cancer’

bonomi-feldman-lung-cancer-award

Jill Feldman with Philip Bonomi, MD, a medical oncologist at Rush

Lung cancer specialists at Rush are among five worldwide recipients of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer’s inaugural Cancer Care Team Award. Jill Feldman, a patient at Rush, introduced them at a recent ceremony in Japan. Here’s her story:

When I was 13, I lost two of my grandparents to lung cancer, and six months later my dad died of lung cancer. Then in my 20s, both my mom and close aunt died of lung cancer.

Needless to say I was devastated and felt helpless, so I started doing advocacy work with LUNGevity Foundation, a national lung cancer organization. I also began getting scans every few years. All was good until 2009. I was 39 years old, had four small children and was president of LUNGevity, so there just aren’t words that can describe how I felt when I was diagnosed with lung cancer, the same disease that I literally watched kill both of my parents.

Foreign territory

I have been in and out of treatment for the past 8 1/2 years. Lung cancer will be a lifelong roller coaster ride for me, but because of a better understanding of lung cancer biology, advancements in treatments, and my dedicated, passionate, collaborative care team, the cancer can be managed as a chronic disease, for now.

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Minimally Invasive Treatment for Bladder Cancer

leslie-deane-rushBy Leslie A. Deane, MD

Bladder cancer can be a devastating diagnosis, especially when the deep muscle of the bladder is involved. It affects approximately 76,000 people in the United States annually, with 18,000 deaths. Men are affected three times as often as women.

The treatments for this condition are life-changing, to say the least, and the goal of surgeons treating patients is to minimize the morbidity and hasten recovery, attempting to normalize quality of life thereafter.

Robotic surgery has changed the approach to patients with this disease, allowing duplication of open techniques, albeit with a less invasive alternative. We have been able to remove the bladder, remove the lymph nodes and reconstruct the bladder using the small intestine, all inside the body (intracorporeal).

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‘More Time to Live’ After Lung Cancer Screening

ralph-marrsBy Ralph Marrs

I started smoking at age 18. My dad was a smoker, and he quit so that none of his kids would smoke, but everybody in the family smoked anyway. We were on our own to decide when to quit. There were seven of us, and I was the sixth one to quit. I just got to a point where I thought, “There has got to be something better than this.”

I originally learned about the opportunity to have a lung cancer screening from my family doctor, Jeremy Pripstein, at my annual physical. He explained that the government had a program for a free screening for people who had smoked for a long time.

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‘Lung Cancer Screening Really Does Save Lives’

linda-dowlingBy 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.

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