Lung cancer survivor Michele Benson credits Genesis Philanthropy and a free low-dose CT scan for saving her life. The screening found Stage 1 lung cancer. Mrs. Benson had a lobectomy at Genesis Medical Center, Silvis, and is now doing pulmonary rehabilitation at home.
CARBON CLIFF — When Michele Benson was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease three years ago, she quit smoking for her health and her family.
The Carbon Cliff woman never imagined she’d develop lung cancer anyway.
Thanks to Genesis Philanthropy’s Waddell Lung Cancer Screening Initiative — which provides free, low-dose Computed Tomography scans to those who qualify — and the encouragement of her husband, Denny, Ms. Benson’s lung cancer was discovered and removed while it was still stage 1.
The only real symptom Ms. Benson, 56, experienced was coughing, which she attributed to her COPD.
“I would have never thought it was cancer,” she said.
Ms. Benson said she has a family history of cancer, lung cancer included. “My mom had died from lung cancer” in 2009.
After Ms. Benson’s COPD diagnosis came, she quit smoking after 37 years. She said she knew she needed to or the COPD would “just get worse and worse.” She was having coughing spells, she said, so badly that “sometimes, you think you’re choking.”
She started medication, inhalers and oxygen at night to manage it, she said.
Then, a card came for her in the mail saying she may be eligible for a free low-dose CT scan. She was going to “toss it,” but her husband, Denny, encouraged her to think again.
“He just kept on,” she said, smiling.
She visited the website listed on the card, genesisphilanthropy.org/lungcancer, and after a short survey, found she fit the criteria for the program, such as being between the ages of 50 and 74, and a current or former smoker. She then made an appointment with her doctor, who referred her for the scan.
It was quick, she said. The results showed the possibility of cancer, so she was sent to a lung doctor who ordered a PET scan to get a better look.
And there was the spot.
“He showed me — and you could see it,” she said.
It was cancer.
“I don’t think it sunk in until I got home,” she said. “It was when (I had to) tell Denny; it was hard.”
So many thoughts ran through her mind. What was it going to do to her husband and her son, Mike, whose dad passed away from cancer when he was 9?
It was all she could think about, she said.
She met with a surgeon, and set up an appointment for surgery to have her upper left lobe removed this last August.
“They told me when I was in the hospital that I was cancer-free,” Ms. Benson said, “that they had got it all.”
Because the surgery was so successful, she would not require further treatment, like radiation or chemo.
It was “basically stage 1 lung cancer,” Ms. Benson said, adding that she’ll have a six-month follow-up in March as a precaution.
After an experience like this, “you have a different outlook on life,” she said. Before, she hated waking up to rainy, gloomy days.
But now, she thinks, “I woke up, and I’m here.”
She went to three weeks of pulmonary rehab this fall, working on a treadmill and stationary bicycle, but because she had the equipment at home, her doctor cleared her to do her exercises there.
Ms. Benson said she was thankful for her persistent husband, who was “such a great help,” Genesis’ doctors, her surgeon and the opportunity to participate in Genesis Philanthropy’s program.
“I feel great,” Ms. Benson said.
Since the Waddell Lung Cancer Screening Initiative got its start last year, about 400 people have been screened, and seven have been diagnosed with lung cancer, according to Missy Gowey, executive director for Genesis Philanthropy and the Genesis Health Services Foundation.
Prior to the initiative’s start, Ms. Gowey said the group approached oncologist Dr. George Kovach to talk about how the foundation’s funds could best be spent in the community for cancer prevention.
“Without hesitation, and more than once, he said ‘offer lung cancer screenings,'” Ms. Gowey said.
Ms. Gowey said Dr. Kovach explained the difference in survival rates if lung cancer is found early, and that low-dose CTs were having an effect in other parts of the country, and would be equally effective in the Q-C.
Those who have been diagnosed were “asymptomatic,” Ms. Gowey said, adding that there’s no telling “how far their cancers would have advanced before being diagnosed, if not for our program.”
Ms. Gowey said the program also gives Genesis and GP the opportunity to educate the community about the risks of smoking. Screenings also are uncovering other health issues besides lung cancer, she said, while many who are screened also are leaving with a “peace of mind when their scans indicate no findings.
“We’re excited to be funding these good news cases, too,” she said.
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