It began when a mailer arrived and caught my attention with its bright yellow background and bold headline — Lung Cancer Screening Program. My profile was certainly in the description: an ex-smoker between 55-77 years of age who had smoked 30 years. I had no symptoms; I was jogging between five and 10 miles a week and working out on a regular basis. Still, my family on both sides has a history of cancer.
I took the flyer to work intending to bring up the scan with my primary care physician. Well, I forgot. The checkup came and went. A couple of weeks later, I noticed the flyer again and acted on it. I called my primary care physician and got the order for the screening.
The specialist told me that I had a one-inch nodule on my upper right lobe, and it looked suspicious. This was a moment I was not prepared for.
The day after my appointment, I had a message from my doctor that something was found on my lung, and I needed to follow up with a specialist. The specialist told me that I had a one-inch nodule on my upper right lobe, and it looked suspicious. This was a moment I was not prepared for. My head spun and my stomach had a sick feeling. I grasped the exam table to steady myself.
I went in for a PET scan, and the next day, I got good news. It didn’t look like anything had spread, so an appointment was set up with a thoracic surgeon. After the meeting, a date was set for surgery.
The morning of my surgery, my wife and I were taken to the surgical waiting room. To tell you that I was scared would be a huge understatement. The surgical coordinator helped us both to understand the process and prepare us for what was going to happen. The anesthesia team came by to explain what they would be doing in surgery. Then, we met the surgical nurse and doctor. The entire staff came across as cool, calm and efficient, which was a tremendous help to both my wife and me. Then, it was time to go to surgery. I lasted long enough to give my wife a kiss, and then it was lights out.
I woke up in ICU attached to monitors, tubes and IVs with my wife and three close friends standing around my bed. What an amazing place! The ICU nurses and staff did a wonderful job of keeping me comfortable and making sure my recovery was smooth. The surgeon came by to explain everything that happened; my right frontal lung lobe had been removed. The nodule had been cancerous.
The next morning, I moved out of ICU. Each day as the shift changes came and went, I met incredible people doing difficult, hard and sometimes thankless tasks in patient care. My first night, I got out of bed and set the alarm off. The nurse was there in seconds to make sure everything was OK. Another day, my blood pressure decided to take a nosedive. Within minutes, I had the response team with all their equipment to make sure I was good.
My gratitude for all the hard work by the nurses, staff and doctors will never diminish – from the nurse who helped my son and me navigate that first lap around the hospital floor, the respiratory therapists, the staff who gave me a sponge bath even washing my hair, the X-ray technicians, the staff who cleaned my room, the dietary department and the hidden support teams who we as patients don’t see.
If I had not paid attention to this piece of mail, I would be walking around – or jogging and working out – with cancer.
I am thankful for the marketing flyer as well. If I had not paid attention to this piece of mail, I would be walking around — or jogging and working out — with cancer. I probably would not have known I was sick until stage 3 symptoms arose.
My cancer nurse told me that the American Cancer Society would consider me a survivor because I didn’t need chemo at this time. I prefer to consider myself in recovery with the ongoing CT scans and doctor visits to make sure everything is good. One thing I know for certain: with lung care at Baylor Scott & White, I feel good about my future.
This post was contributed by Barney Brinkmann, a cancer patient at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.