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.
Midwest Orthopaedics is an ongoing sponsor of the event, which has raised funds for cancer research at Rush since 2012. I am very familiar with the swimming community — my daughter Morgan graduated from Michigan State University and swam there for four years, as well as four years at Downers Grove North High School. During that time, I was at almost all of Morgan’s swim events. What’s more, I am a nurse practitioner in orthopedic oncology, so there was a logical connection.
It made sense for me to be involved with the Swim Across America Chicago event, but I’ll admit that I barely swim in a pool, let alone in Lake Michigan. But, of course, I became Captain Patty.
Luckily for me, the swim is a noncompetitive race — no triathlon clawing or scratching — and the half-mile swim parallels the beach, which means the water is shallow and makes the race doable for all skill levels. For those more proficient swimmers, you can swim up to three miles. It is way easier than any chemotherapy treatment, any radiation treatment, or any surgical procedure and rehabilitation that my cancer patients have gone through. We even have former cancer patients on the team. Continue reading →
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.
When Janet Wolter, MD, first began practicing medicine, the polio vaccine hadn’t yet been discovered, and cancer was so feared that it wasn’t discussed openly.
By the time she retired as Brian Piccolo Chair of Cancer Research and professor of internal medicine at Rush at the end of November 2009, Wolter had provided thousands of cancer patients with hope and made important contributions to the advances that have transformed cancer care and outcomes.
To honor Wolter, Rush is hosting a seminar of former residents and fellows on Feb. 27 and will name a new teaching area after her. The Janet Wolter, MD, Clinical and Educational Conference Room will provide a comfortable, high-tech home for the education of residents and fellows and for collaboration among clinicians of various specialties. The room will be built as part of the renovation of the 10th floor of the Professional Building later this year to house Rush’s new outpatient cancer center. The educational focus of these tributes reflects Wolter’s enduring influence on generations of physicians.
“She served as a role model, for me and many other oncologists who trained at Rush; for our internal medicine residents and students; and especially for many female physicians,” says Philip Bonomi, MD, Alice Pirie Wirtz professor of medical oncology and director of hematology-oncology at Rush, who trained with Wolter as an oncology fellow. “She’s a very fastidious physician who has taken excellent care of patients. There’s no one better,” Bonomi continues. “On Monday mornings, the oncology team goes through new cases, and to this day her remarks are incredibly insightful and pertinent, not only in breast cancer but other cases.”
Seventh grade plans
A native of River Forest, Wolter declared her intention to be a doctor in a seventh grade essay. In the late 1940s, she first came to what would become Rush during a clerkship at Presbyterian Hospital while attending the University of Illinois College of Medicine. (Presbyterian eventually merged with both St. Luke’s Hospital and Rush Medical College to form what now is Rush University Medical Center.) World War II had just ended when she was accepted into medical school.
Janet Wolter, MD, in 1954, when she was chief resident at the University of Illinois Research and Education Hospital.
“A lot of the guys weren’t out of the service yet,” Wolter recalls. “In my class of 165, 21 were women, but the next year when everybody came back from the war, it went down to four women and 161 men.”
After receiving her medical degree in 1950, Wolter completed training at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Duke University Hospital, the University of Illinois Research and Education Hospital and Presbyterian Hospital before joining the U of I faculty. There, she treated polio patients, who were confined in iron lungs that enabled them to breathe.
“All the equipment back then was big and rigid and heavy,” Wolter remembers. “We had no computers. Electrocardiograms (EKGs) were done on photographic paper, and every floor in a hospital had a darkroom where you’d develop the EKG.”
The advent of the polio vaccine in the mid-’50s eventually led to the end of her program, and Wolter joined the Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital faculty in 1963 to collaborate with pioneering physician Samuel G. Taylor III, MD, in his work treating cancer patients with hormones and chemotherapy. “It wasn’t even called oncology. There wasn’t even a name for it then,” she remembers. “There really wasn’t anything that could be called cancer care. If the surgeon couldn’t remove the tumor, that was it.” Continue reading →