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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
People don’t always realize that clinical research trials are very interactive, and there’s a lot of individual patient care that goes on with clinical research as well. You need someone who’s willing to share with you all the details of how their body is responding to help us understand the up and downsides of what they’re going through. It’s a very personal experience.
When a patient came to Rush for a second opinion on her metastatic breast cancer, the team let her know there were many options to manage her cancer, including ones in clinical research. We asked if she would be willing to learn about some of these studies we had to offer.
She was excited about being in a clinical trial, and that enthusiasm is great for us as a team. She wanted to closely follow the protocol, listen and learn about her care.
In 2009, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my left breast and in some of the lymph nodes on the left side. I had a successful surgery and treatment with chemotherapy followed by reconstructive surgery. They removed 12 lymph nodes, and I had radiation. Everything was going well.
As I approached the five-year mark that would have given me a clean bill of health, I started not feeling well. I had a lot of pain in my upper back, and I felt a lump under my right arm. But my dad was dying at the time, and I was at the hospital a lot. I thought it was just fatigue.
When I went to the doctor, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in my bones. It was very, very aggressive. I went to the same hospital near my home where I’d received my first round of treatment. The doctor there told me that there was nothing they could do. That it was hopeless, and I only had a short time left to live.
Paul Kent, MD (left), with Ricky Mock and parents Sue and Dave Mock.
By Sue Mock
Our journey began when Ricky, our beautiful, amazing, fun, special boy, was just 4 years old. Right after his fourth birthday, Ricky started complaining that his leg hurt. Over the next six months, he had about four episodes in which he was inconsolable due to the pain in his leg.
After discussing these episodes with our pediatrician, he referred us to a local orthopedic physician. The orthopedic doctor took an X-ray and said it looked like Ricky had a stress fracture, which is basically impossible for a 4-year-old. So he sent us for an MRI and bone scan at another institution. But even after those tests, he wasn’t sure what was going on with Ricky.
That’s when he referred us to Rush. Our doctor told us that even though he was affiliated with another hospital, he personally would take his family to Midwest Orthopedics at Rush.
A diagnosis no parent wants to hear
Things continued to snowball at the speed of light after our first visit at Rush. Exactly two weeks after his bone biopsy, Ricky was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a bone cancer that primarily affects children.
In April 2010, I was diagnosed with stage 3B rectal cancer. This diagnosis came as a big surprise to me as well as my doctors, family and friends. The recommendation for colorectal cancer screening begins starting at age 50. So when I started having symptoms for this disease at age 36, the possibility that it may be colorectal cancer, at first, was at the bottom of my list.
My symptoms started in December 2009. John and I had taken a road trip down to visit my family in Florida. While I was there, I noticed that I had become constipated. I associated this with being in a car for long periods of time and not eating well while traveling. This persisted on and off even after we came back from Florida.
Somewhere between January and February 2010, I started noticing some blood in my stool. Since nine out of 10 people who are diagnosed are over the age of 50, I thought it could be anything but colorectal cancer. This concerned me, but I was still having constipation, so I assumed I had possibly done some internal damage that was causing this occasional bleeding.