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Lung cancer doesn’t have to go undetected

By Dennis Minich

I don’t have lung cancer. That sounds like an unusual statement, ranking right up there with “I wasn’t in a car accident today,” “I wasn’t late for work,” and “I didn’t buy anything at the grocery store today.” Such statements are rarely made because they are normal, expected and not news. But my statement about lung cancer is personally very significant and important to me.

I have a deep hatred for all cancer, but especially lung cancer. My wife of 24 years, Debbie, lost a battle with lung cancer. Next month will mark seven years she has been gone. Watching her struggle with the disease was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. The cancer was persistent, ruthless and aggressive. I watched her vibrancy disappear, her pain intensify and her ability to battle diminish. Unfortunately, like most lung cancer diagnoses it was discovered by accident and way too late.

Debbie had battled back pain for a couple of years. I don’t know how many X-rays, CT scans, MRIs or other tests were performed looking for what was causing the back pain. Suggestions ran from broken bones to kidney stones to strained muscles. For far too long, the word cancer never appeared. Finally, when she hurt so bad she couldn’t go to work, one more trip led to the emergency room at Cass Regional and on an X-ray, the doctor found the cancer. The pain was a result of the cancer moving from the lungs into the back. They could help with the pain, but the diagnosis was terminal. For a long time, I wondered how many tests would have shown the cancer and maybe given her a fighting chance, but hopes for the past are fruitless.

I found out November is “Lung Cancer Awareness Month.” I did not know that. Unlike breast cancer or prostate cancer or some of the more acceptable diseases, I didn’t know lung cancer actually had a month. When I found out, I asked if there was anything new in the lung cancer world and I was informed about a test, which is now available for people at risk. I am such a person, being over 50 and having smoked. I am marginal, because I have not smoked for 15 years, but I still wanted to know. I consulted my primary care physician and was referred to CRMC for the test, although I will note it is also available at Bates County Memorial Hospital. I scheduled the test and brought along Christopher Tenpenny to take notes on the procedure and take pictures, the results of which are in a story on page 1. I was stunned by how short the test was. I was expecting him to witness all kinds of bells, whistles, images and consultations. Instead, he and I were both out in less than five minutes. Fortunately, he did get some pictures.

I got a call from my doctor’s office the next day. I didn’t have lung cancer. I hadn’t had any signs, I wasn’t really a typical at-risk person, but still, I needed to know.

I am so happy this test is available. I wish we had known about it 10 years ago, maybe it would have saved Debbie, I don’t know. But I know there are a lot of folks out there at risk for lung cancer, some with the disease, and this test could save their life.

Lung cancer is awful, but what’s even worse is victims are viewed in the public’s eyes so much worse than victims of other diseases. If you tell someone you have lung cancer, you are immediately asked if you smoked. If you answer yes, the unsaid comment is, “that’s what you get.” No one deserves lung cancer. Even though we know smoking causes the disease, we don’t know why. Saying you deserve no pity for developing lung cancer because you smoked is the same as saying you deserve no pity for heart disease because you eat meat. You deserve no pity for dying in a car accident because that is a risk of driving or you deserve to die of COVID because you did or didn’t get a vaccine.

Regardless of how you felt about some of my previous health warnings, listen to this one. If you are over 50 and either smoke or were a smoker, even if you have quit for 10 years, consider having the test. It is painless, brief and could be lifesaving.

While there’s lots of information and advertising about some of the more correct cancers, lung cancer remains a curse for so many people. I am so thrilled there is a diagnostic tool. I am so excited it can help some people. I am ecstatic I took the test and don’t have lung cancer.

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