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December 19, 2012
Advanced surgery, tailored chemotherapy offer great results for lung cancer patient
Marty Smith fit the description of a “typical guy.” As he would say, “I didn’t really like going to doctors. I’d rely on advice from my family and friends.”
Nearly three years ago his friends were telling him that his wheezing and strange whistling sounds were probably caused by asthma. Or bronchitis. Maybe a chest hernia. They were wrong. At the age of 50, Marty learned he had a large, cancerous tumor on one of his lungs.
“My sisters insisted I get treated at Loyola because of its reputation. They said academic medical centers attract the brightest people from all over the world. So I went to Loyola.”
Loyola University Medical Center (Loyola) welcomes cancer patients, regardless of where they received their diagnosis. A multidisciplinary team of 20 or more specialists meet once a week to review each case, including films and disease pathology.
The specialists develop a treatment plan customized for each individual and share it with the patient the same day.
“Under the right circumstances, in the multidisciplinary setting, we can achieve positive outcomes even with advanced lung cancer,” said Christopher Wigfield, MD, lead thoracic surgeon at Loyola. “It is not simply the combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy that is important. Knowing how and when each of these advanced tools should be used is crucial.”
The Loyola team agreed that Marty needed radiation and chemotherapy before lung surgery, followed by more chemotherapy after the operation. First, Dr. Wigfield had to improve Marty’s ability to breathe. “I used a laser on his lung to maintain airway function. Without this step, it is unlikely that Marty would have tolerated aggressive chemotherapy and radiation. And without those treatments, we couldn’t perform advanced surgery on his lung,” Dr. Wigfield said.
Loyola physicians are dedicated to continually learning how to improve outcomes for patients like Marty. “They are able to offer patients access to leading-edge clinical studies, that target lung cancers based on their “molecular fingerprint.”
“The studies we’re participating in now are looking at the genetic makeup of tumors and how people respond to customized therapy,” said Cheryl Czerlanis, MD, a Loyola oncologist who specializes in lung cancer. “Research findings help us determine what is most likely to cure an individual patient. A clinical trial may not be your last hope, as many people think. It may be your first and best option.”
After the radiation and chemotherapy successfully shrunk the size of the tumor, Marty was ready for surgery. “I was prepared for the worst, but I made sure I did everything the doctors said,” Marty recalled. “I realized this wasn’t just a job for them; they really cared about patients. So I ate well, took my medications and quit smoking.”
Dr. Wigfield and his colleagues agreed that the removal of an entire lung was the best option for Marty’s survival and long-term health.
“Marty received the whole nine yards of lung cancer treatment,” Dr. Wigfield said. “His functional outcome is remarkable, and that is due to a comprehensive assessment and treatment plan. Having tested his single lung capacity and oxygen needs, we knew he would not have trouble breathing with one lung, but we’re surprised that he would be able to carry mattresses up and down stairs!”
Marty used to deliver mattresses for a living, and at times his friends still ask him for a hand. More than two years have passed since his surgery, and Marty is enjoying life. He likes to read, travel, attend neighborhood festivals and occasionally catch a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Using a baseball analogy, Marty says that his first hospital was good, but Loyola was “like going to the major leagues.”
Based on his recent experiences, Marty says he’s a different man. “I’m more proactive about my health, and I have a better feeling about doctors. I’m more inclined to see them when I should.”
For more information, visit LoyolaMedicine.org/cancer or call Loyola’s Cancer Hotline (708) CAN-HELP (708-226-4357).