Screenings Save Lives: How One Medical Center is Making Incredible Changes in Gwinnett

 

Kristen Eleveld

November is here, bringing us fall weather, the promise of turkey on the horizon, and the holiday season right around the corner. For Gwinnett Medical Center (GMC), with locations in Lawrenceville and Duluth, November also brings an opportunity to save lives through lung cancer screening.

Gwinnett Medical Center is making big strides toward diagnosing lung cancer in its earliest stages, as well as preventing the disease altogether. With their motto—early detection is the best protection—paving the way, GMC is urging everyone to pay attention to their health and participate in recommended screenings. If you are over the age of 55 and smoke, or have a history of smoking in the last 15 years, you may be at a higher risk of developing lung cancer, and could qualify for a lung cancer screening at GMC. The American Cancer Society estimates that 1 in 15 men and 1 in 17 women will be diagnosed with lung cancer in their lifetime. However, in spite of overwhelming research that shows just how dangerous smoking can be, many smokers find themselves reluctant to get screened.

“People know smoking is bad for them. That isn’t new information,” says Nancy McCormick, GMC’s Thoracic Oncology Nurse Navigator and one of the leaders of the lung screening initiative. “But they are avoiding the lung cancer screenings because they are afraid of a potential diagnosis.”

Unfortunately, cancer does not go away by ignoring it, which is why GMC is so adamant about making sure everyone who is at risk is thoroughly checked and treated when necessary. But there is good news. By taking the time to assess the health of at-risk patients, GMC is able to help many people who do participate in lung cancer screenings.

One such patient is Donna Valentine, who recently celebrated being cancer-free after having surgery to remove a mass in her lung. Mrs. Valentine had been a smoker for over forty years, but stopped for good in 2006. She had no symptoms that indicated anything was wrong. Her doctors recommended she have regular chest X-rays and then CT scans to ensure she remained healthy since her age and history of smoking put her at a higher risk for developing lung cancer.

In late 2017, after the latest CT scan of her lungs, Donna’s doctors called her at home to inform her that they had found a suspicious mass in her right lung. They told her to get a PET scan immediately at GMC. Soon after, her worst fears were confirmed – she had lung cancer.

“Gwinnett Medical Center has always been my ‘go to’ place,” said Mrs. Valentine of her decision to receive treatment at GMC. “The staff at GMC has always provided the appropriate care while in the hospital and the care necessary after being discharged.”

Her team of doctors wasted no time deciding her next steps. She met with her surgeon on a Wednesday afternoon, and surgery was scheduled for the following Monday. During surgery, her doctor removed the upper lobe of her right lung, a decision they had agreed upon before surgery began.

Donna, who originally hails from Michigan, knows that the screening saved her life, and is now able to enjoy her grandkids and daily activities much more. She emphasized that it is imperative for those at high-risk for lung cancer to get screened as soon as possible – and to keep up the screenings on a regular basis!

“One of my doctors managed to drive home the message that, while she was concerned for my wellbeing, if I did not do my part to take care of myself, there wasn’t much she could do,” recalls Mrs. Valentine. “That message was loud and clear, and I knew I had to keep my appointments and see specialists who could help me.”

The ending to Donna’s story is a happy one, but the outcome is different for so many others who did not take advantage of the available resources to keep themselves well. If you’re wondering whether you qualify for a lung cancer screening, Gwinnett Medical Center has made it easy for you – just visit gwinnettmedicalcenter.org/lungscreening to view the guidelines for people who need to be screened on a regular basis. They also provide a phone number and online form so you can speak with a lung expert and ask any questions you have about the screening process.

These days, Mrs. Valentine doesn’t worry about cancer. She knows she is doing everything she can to monitor the signs and keep herself healthy.

“I am confident that I can celebrate a victory over this bout with cancer, with continued blood work and CT scans,” she said. “We never know what lies ahead, but for now, with the help and wisdom of others, I can smile knowing I won this round.”

More information at gwinnettmedicalcenter.org/lungcreening.

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