Early Detection Through Screening, and Faster Recovery with Robotic Surgery Help Janet Overcome Lung Cancer
Janet Gravitt, 74, doesn’t like sitting at home. A widow of 18 years, she finds great satisfaction in volunteering at a local food pantry and helping ladies with limited mobility do their grocery shopping and get to their doctors’ appointments. She also spends much time with her children and seven grandchildren.
When an ad for TriHealth’s Lung Cancer Screening Program kept popping up on her phone’s news feed, she ignored it the first few times. Eventually, she listened to a podcast that explained how a man who had a lung cancer screening at TriHealth went on to be cured of an early-stage lung cancer.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of death in the U.S., in large part because it isn’t detected until later stages, when it’s more difficult to treat. Screening people at high risk for lung cancer, especially those with a long history of smoking, can dramatically improve their survival.
“It’s an extremely effective screening tool for a disease where we haven’t previously been able to offer a lot,” says R. Douglas Adams, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon with the TriHealth Heart Institute. In fact, the screening CT scan has a much higher percentage rate of detecting early-stage cancer than either mammograms or colonoscopies.
Opportunity for Early Intervention
Janet’s age and smoking history made her eligible for the CT screening, which was covered by Medicare. She says, “It was meant for me to see that darn ad. Since then, I’ve learned to pay attention to the nudges I get.”
Her TriHealth primary care doctor, Melanie Spaedy, MD, placed the order for the CT scan, and Janet went for a screening within two days. She learned the following day, a Saturday, that there was an area of concern. She had to keep the news to herself, however, when her daughter threw a surprise birthday party for her the next day. “My heart was breaking with what I’d heard the day before. I was petrified.”
She then went for a PET scan, a test which showed higher metabolic activity in the suspicious area, a strong indicator of cancer.
One of the hallmarks of care at the TriHealth Cancer Institute is bringing together a variety of specialists to meet with a patient and use their collective expertise to make a treatment plan.
“It requires input from all disciplines to make the best decision – medical oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, pulmonologists and radiologists,” says medical oncologist Leanne Budde, MD, with the TriHealth Cancer Institute. “We have instant communication among specialists, reducing time from diagnosis to starting treatment.”
“I was scared to death,” Janet recalls. “They said I had a nodule in my upper left lobe of my lung. Dr. Adams said it was small – about the size of a medium grape – and contained. Thank God for that! He recommended surgery.”
Robotic Surgery Speeds Recovery Time
Janet gave up cigarettes after her first visit with Dr. Adams.
In mid-July, Dr. Adams performed a successful robotic-assisted trisegmentectomy, a surgery to remove the portion of the lobe containing Janet’s cancer. Afterwards, he confirmed that the lung cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes.
She had four small incisions for the procedure plus a fifth for a drainage tube post-surgery.
Dr. Adams has performed more than 1,050 robotic-assisted surgery cases since 2009. “Compared to open surgery, it’s a qualitative leap,” he says. “The robot allows me to be immersed in the patient’s chest, to operate with 10-times-magnified, three-dimensional vision with micro-instrumentation. It’s patient-driven, with less discomfort and a faster recovery. It’s more accurate and better for lung-sparing. In general, you have to give me a reason not to use the robot.”
Janet says, “Dr. Adams could not have been any kinder or any more patient.” She also praises Dr. Eisentrout, the pulmonologist who provides her ongoing lung care. “They both presented things in a positive way and answered every question.”
Janet went home after two days and was off pain medicine within five days. After four weeks, she began attending pulmonary rehabilitation twice a week at TriHealth Fitness & Health Pavilion. “They teach you breathing exercises and how to restore your energy,” says Janet. “It’s a fun place to be.”
A Bright Outlook
Janet continues to get stronger. Since her cancer was confined to one small spot, the team agreed she didn’t need radiation therapy or chemotherapy to improve her odds of staying cancer free.
As her medical oncologist, Dr. Budde will follow Janet over the next five years and order CT scans every six months to ensure there are no further findings or concerning symptoms.
Janet is grateful to get back to her volunteering and attending her grandchildren’s ballgames. She notes, “It worked out as well as it could have – but I don’t want to do it again! I thank God every day that I saw that ad.”
Dr. Budde concludes, “Janet’s prognosis is excellent because we found her cancer early.” She encourages others to be screened, as well: “If you have a history of smoking, still smoke, or quit in the last 15 years, please ask your primary care physician about whether you’re a candidate for a lung cancer screening. We want people to get screened before they develop symptoms. These screenings do save lives.”
If you are age 55 to 77 years, smoke now or quit within the past 15 years, have smoked an equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years, and have no symptoms of lung cancer, you are a candidate for TriHealth’s Lung Cancer Screening Program. Contact a nurse practitioner at 513 865 1145 to learn more.
Last Updated: October 15, 2019