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Lung Cancer Survivors Gather to Celebrate and Learn


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Resident Estelle Branden is a survivor.

She was among the more than 100 who attended the recent Women’s Guild Lung Institute Lung Cancer Survivor Celebra-tion at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Branden, who attended for her second year, had BAC Cancer. Bronchioalveolar cancer, sometimes called the “mystery” lung cancer, accounts for 2 to 14 percent of all lung cancers and less is known about this type of cancer than other non-small cell lung cancers.

The World Health Organiza-tion has classified BAC as a type of acenocarcinoma, a form of lung cancer that is more common in non-smokers.

Now 76, Branden says she found herself always out of breath. “And I was always so active, it was very unlike me,” Branden said, and she chalked it up to aging.

She didn’t experience the coughing or coughing up blood that are often symptoms of the disease.

After a month of being winded and tired, Branden decided to see a doctor. “If there’s something you can’t do any more; it’s a signal. People attribute everything to old age and don’t have a check up.”

She went to her internist, who took an X-ray and told her “something looks funny, like shattered glass.”

On an X-ray, this usually represents some type of inflammatory process in the lungs, or some scarring, like the condition known as “pneumonitis.” The inflammation can come from numerous causes.

Her internist gave her the name of a specialist—Dr. Robert McKenna, surgical director of the Women’s Guild Lung Institute—who did a CAT scan, confirmed the “shattered windshield syndrome” and told her she had cancer.

“I was flippant about it,” Branden says. “I said, ‘What do you mean I have cancer? How long have I got’ He said, ‘A year if you don’t do anything about it.’”

McKenna told her, “This is what needs to be done; this is what has to be done.”

She had the operation and went home a day and a half later after having stage two tumors removed.

Like many others, she donated her cancer cells to a tissue bank to be studied at Cedars and UCLA.

Branden, who smoked from ages 14-40, quit when she learned the cancer risks and is bothered that four of her five grandchildren smoke. “They have all the information and still go on. They believe they are immortal.”

Branden looks forward to the event each year to thank Dr. McKenna and remember a friend who wasn’t diagnosed early. “I believe in surviving every day; and I like getting together with other survivors to appreciate and honor them.”

Emmy-award winning actress and lung cancer survivor Kathryn Joos-ten also addressed the crowd.

Known as the crotchety neighbor Karen McCluskey on Desperate Housewives and Dolores Landingham, secretary to the president on NBC’s The West Wing; it was during her West Wing tenure that Joosten was diagnosed with lung cancer and had surgery in December 2001. It barely slowed her down, and she began speaking to cancer groups.

Recently, a new cancer appeared, but she remains positive she can beat it again. “I don’t see myself necessarily as a survivor, but as managing my life,” she says. “Some people are passive. I want to get out there and drive the damn thing.”

In her remarks, she spoke of the need for more funding for lung cancer research.

She also told survivors there needs to be a referral system of psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals “to help people deal with this devastating diagnosis.”

The event is also a chance to give survivors updates in new treatment, therapies and research.

Surgeons at Cedars-Sinai have been working to develop a minimally invasive surgery to treat lung cancer.

In this procedure, called a video-assisted thoracoscopic (VATS) lobectomy, a lobe of the lung affected by cancer is removed through small incisions. Dr. McKenna was a leader in the development of the procedure, and has trained surgeons from all over the world in the technique.

Linda Salvati, another BAC survivor, whose parents died of lung cancer, spoke of the group she formed to gather others for research. “We’re seeing an increase in lung cancer in women who don’t smoke,” Salvati said. “This is still a rare form of cancer.”

Dr. Ora Gordon, director of GenRISK adult Genetic Program, spoke on “Genetics of Lung Cancer: Is it A Family Affair?”

She said research is ongoing as to why lung cancer clusters in families, effecting people at a younger age if two or more blood relatives have the disease. Even if the person doesn’t smoke.

“We’re seeing a huge increase in lung cancer in women and we don’t know why,” Gordon said. “Is it exposure to second -hand smoke or other factors? That’s what we have to find out.”

“We’re here for you and because of you,” McKenna said. “Surviv-orship is an active process. The reason we can see ahead is because we stand on your shoulders,” McKenna told the audience.—Steve Simmons

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(The Beverly Hills Courier, article by Steve Simmons, December 4, 2009)


The information contained in these articles may or may not be in agreement with my own opinions. They are not being posted with the intention of being medical advice of any kind.

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