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.
We provide excellent medical care at Rush, and we all can take pride in the high quality of treatment we offer our patients. It’s important, though, that in providing care we have true compassion for each patient, and not just treat the medical problem.
Our late colleague Roy Bakay, MD, provided great insight into patients’ need for compassionate understanding in a video he made before he died in September, following a long battle with stomach cancer. Drawing on his mutual experiences as a patient at Rush and as a neurosurgeon providing care for Rush patients, he eloquently and movingly talks about the insight he gained into patients’ fears and vulnerability. Roy goes on to discuss the importance of truly communicating with patients about their condition and making sure their families are involved in their care.
A highly accomplished clinician and researcher who specialized in Parkinson’s disease, Roy knew full well how demanding work at Rush can be. He also recognized, and talks about, the great difference it makes if caregivers do, or don’t, take simple steps to make sure patients understand who they are and what their role is in a patient’s care.
I encourage everyone to watch the video and benefit from the insights he offers from his own experience with illness. I’m sure you’ll be moved by Roy’s bravery and inspired by his example.
David Ansell, MD, MPH, is senior vice president of clinical affairs and chief medical officer at Rush University Medical Center.
Megan Kono (right) and Rush Philanthropy colleague Deanna Wisthuff
By Megan Kono
For as long as I can remember, swimming has been a big part of my life. From tiny tots swim lessons to year-round club teams, from high school swimming all the way through college, the sport has served as a constant anchor for me growing up. But after graduating in 2011 and taking a position on the Philanthropy staff at Rush, I wasn’t sure that swimming would have a place in my life as an adult, and I certainly didn’t think it would weave into our mission at Rush. After learning about the partnership between Rush and Swim Across America, I’m happy to say I was wrong.
Swim Across America is a nationally recognized foundation dedicated to increasing both awareness and funds in the fight against cancer. Ordinary people all over the country take part in the many open water events that Swim Across America organizes, swimming to raise money for cancer research. This summer marks the second year that Swim Across America has partnered with Rush to raise funds for research projects in our cancer center. Once again, proceeds from the Swim Across America Chicago Open Water Swim on July 20 be will be used to forward cancer research at Rush and bring us one step closer to eradicating this awful illness.
On Feb. 17, 2010, while I was teaching high school science in the Bronx, my mother was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. I quickly left everything — my teaching fellowship, my master’s degree program and my friends — and returned to Chicago to be with my family and my mom.
I always knew I was going to work in health care, but I wasn’t sure which route or specialty I was really interested in. While I saw my mother suffering, I came to a very big realization: There is nothing in the world harder than watching someone you love struggle for a breath. It was the most helpless feeling to not be able to alleviate any of that hardship.
After caring for her through her illness (my mother passed away about 10 months after she was diagnosed), I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to helping people breathe and supporting their loved ones. In 2011, I entered the Master of Science in Respiratory Care Program at Rush, where my mother received wonderful care, so I could help people care for their heart and lungs.
In this video, Cobleigh talks about her involvement in research of the medication Herceptin, which is now part of the standard of care for breast cancer treatment.
“We were dealing with some patients who were extremely ill who got better right before our eyes,” she says, “and that was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life in medicine.”
To watch the chat live or submit a question, visit Rush’s Facebook page on Oct. 12 or sign up now for an event reminder. You can also submit questions in advance on Twitter by including the #rushhealthchat tag or via email at email@example.com.
There’s no season more anticipated and celebrated than summer in Chicago. The city parks and lakefront are packed with people trying to make the most of every minute of warm sunshine. Unfortunately, extended exposure to sun causes many of the wrinkles and age spots on our faces, and is the number one cause of skin cancer.
Some easy things you can do to significantly reduce your risk of damaging your skin are to stay out direct sun during peak hours (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), wear clothing to cover your skin and use sunscreen with the appropriate SPF.