Rely on Screenings, Not Luck

By Sandra Millar, lung cancer survivor

I survived lung cancer, but I was lucky. Now, I want others to survive without banking on luck.

I was a heavy smoker for over five decades, thus I easily qualified for a lung cancer screening CT scan, which I had in 2015 under the care of my general practitioner in New Orleans.  A small nodule was detected, which didn’t seem to bother my family doctor, so it didn’t bother me. I was told that I could be screened again sometime later.

“Sometime later” came earlier this year, when my second screening CT scan showed the nodule – formerly a mere speck – had grown into an almost two-inch tumor. I was then referred to a pulmonologist, who recommended that I continue to observe the nodule. Something inside of me was not comfortable with this plan and I sought a second opinion. I transferred my care to Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center and consulted with Dr. Emily Cassidy, a thoracic surgeon, who reviewed my scans with the lung nodule multidisciplinary team. They informed me that the nodule looked like cancer. After learning my options from Dr. Cassidy, I scheduled surgery.

She removed a sample of the tumor, confirmed it was cancerous, and proceeded to robotically remove the top portion of my left lung. Then I waited to learn what stage of cancer I had. What awaited me?  Radiation? Chemotherapy? More surgeries? Was my last Christmas around the corner?

But I got good news. Stage 1A. The best possible scenario in the context of lung cancer.

I can attribute my survival to many things: a world-class thoracic surgeon, incredible staff and caring and supportive family and friends. But all those positive forces could have been negated had my cancer progressed to a more dangerous stage during the five years between my scans. That it had not progressed further was pure luck.

But I didn’t need to bank on luck. I am now painstakingly aware that I qualified for – and very well should have had – a lung cancer screening CT every year that I’ve been eligible. And that’s the message I want to blare in neon lights: if you’ve been a smoker for several years and are of a certain age, you are eligible for annual lung cancer screenings, which are covered by private insurance and Medicare. Early detection dramatically improves survival rates. But not nearly enough people know of the availability, ease and importance of lung cancer screening programs.

I am enormously appreciative of the excellent services and compassionate care I received at Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center, but I nevertheless feel lucky because I didn’t get screened as often as I could have and, as a result, could have had a much worse outcome. I would be remiss if I didn’t try to help others like me learn from my experience. So, please, take full advantage of the lung cancer screening program and rely on science, not luck.

-Sandra Millar, New Orleans, LA

To learn more about lung cancer and lung cancer screenings, click here.