Brighter Days Ahead

High Praise for Lung Cancer Care

Holidays and special occasions are supposed to be happy times. But for Colleen Johnson of Monroe, two “big dates” in 2014 were far from pleasant.

On Mother’s Day, Colleen was at a restaurant, being treated to dinner by one of her sons. “I had just returned from a cruise and was having a nice time at the restaurant, until I started having difficulty breathing,” she recalls sadly. “I felt like there was an obstruction in my airway.”

That difficulty in breathing turned out to be small cell lung cancer, a diagnosis that Colleen was devastated to receive on her 64th birthday on May 23.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 10 to15 percent of lung cancers are small cell, a cancer known to spread quickly. Colleen’s large mass in her right lung had metastasized to lymph nodes, her liver and right femur bone.

Colleen, a former smoker, chose oncologist Mary Ellen Broadstone-Gaeke, MD, to fight her cancer.

“There are two types of small cell lung cancer: limited or extensive. Colleen’s was extensive, with dramatic lymph node involvement,” Dr. Broadstone-Gaeke reports. She ordered aggressive chemotherapy treatment for Colleen. From May through September, Colleen received a combination of cancer-fighting drugs at the Compton Center at Atrium Medical Center in Middletown.

“At Atrium, I got the treatment I needed, so close to home,” reports Colleen. “Everything was available to me right here, to get me through the journey. No one can imagine how much that means, unless you’ve been through this.”

She was even more convinced her treatment was the right choice when, close to the end of her chemotherapy, she went for a second opinion at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America near Chicago. “I just wanted to know if there were any other options available to me,” she says. “The oncologist there looked at all my medical records, saw what Dr. Broadstone-Gaeke was doing for me at Atrium, evaluated the results — and told me that’s exactly what should be done. He said they had nothing else to offer me. I was glad to come home.”

The results of Colleen’s chemotherapy are very encouraging. “Colleen had an excellent response to the treatment and her latest PET (positron emission tomography) scan is dramatically better,” says Dr. Broadstone-Gaeke.

She has recommended that Colleen be evaluated by a radiation oncologist. “Small cell lung cancer tends to reoccur in the places it started, so that’s one of the reasons I’m having her see a radiation oncologist,” she says. “Plus, this type of cancer can spread to the brain. Radiation called prophylactic cranial irradiation can help lower the chances of that happening.”

Colleen, mother of two and grandmother of two, is a woman of strong faith, and her faith is getting her through her cancer experience. She’s also grateful that she was able to get the help she needed. “I thank God for Dr. Broadstone-Gaeke and the other people at Atrium,” she says.

“I have gotten back to work, at my job at the outlet mall,” she says with enthusiasm and adds, “I thought there was a possibility that I would not see Christmas this year.” 

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