Lung Cancer Surgery
- Jim Myers has a passion for extreme sports, something he’s able to continue to appreciate thanks to lung cancer surgery.
- Jousting is a sport many doctors discourage, but Myers loves it, especially considering it nearly saved his life. He was diagnosed with stage 1 lung cancer during a scan for an unrelated jousting injury.
- Surgery to remove the cancer is considered the “gold standard” for stage 1 lung cancer.
His favorite? Jousting — a martial game between two horse riders wielding lances with blunted tips. The sport is one many doctors discourage, but Myers loves it, especially considering it nearly saved his life. He was diagnosed with stage 1 lung cancer during a scan for an unrelated jousting injury.Read More
“I sold my armor so I wouldn’t be tempted,” he tells University of Missouri Health.
“Seeing so many patients during my follow-up visits who were going through so much more than me made me really grateful that this was caught early,” he says.
Jim Myers’ Diagnosis
In 2016, while jousting at the Ohio State Fair, he aggravated a previous neck injury, but didn’t think much of it at first. The pain persisted for weeks before he finally decided to seek medical attention at University of Missouri Health in Columbia, Mo.
His doctor, Dr. Thorkild Norregaard, ordered a CT scan of his neck, and when reviewing the scans, Dr. Norregaard noticed something that wasn’t related to the neck pain Myers was experiencing. It was a small spot seen in the top lobe of his left lung, which led to a stage 1 lung cancer diagnosis.
Lung cancer is the second most common form of cancer, and the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women in the United States. It can be particularly tricky to treat because often, symptoms don’t show up until the cancer has spread to other organs. In other words, if not for his jousting injury, Myers most likely wouldn’t have caught his cancer for years, letting it grow and spread to other parts of the body. (Stage 1 means that the cancer is confined to the lungs and hasn’t spread to other parts of the body yet.)
Smoking causes most lung cancer cases. Tobacco smoke contains a mixture of more than 7,000 different chemicals, at least 70 of which are known to cause cancer. Myers was a light smoker in his younger days, but hadn’t touched a cigarette in more than 25 years.
If you quit smoking, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing the disease and dying from it. But almost 20% of people who die from lung cancer in the U.S. each year have never smoked or used other forms of tobacco.
Lung Cancer Surgery
Dr. Joseph Friedberg, head of thoracic surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, tells SurvivorNet that surgery to remove the cancer is considered the “gold standard” for stage 1 lung cancer.
The definitive cancer staging takes place after lung cancer surgery. Once the cancer is removed and your doctors take a closer look at your lymph nodes and confirm they are cancer-free, you are officially done with lung cancer treatment, although you will be monitored closely for signs of a recurrence. However, if they are malignant, more action will need to be taken.
In Myers’ case, he had the nodule and a small segment of his lung removed, which were both sent to a lab to see if the tissues were malignant. If the nodule was benign, the surgery could have ended with a wedge resection — surgical removal of a small, wedge-shaped piece of lung tissue to remove a small tumor.
But since his nodule was malignant, his entire left upper lobe of the lung, as well as nearby lymph nodes, needed to be removed. This was done with robotic-assisted surgery. (Before his surgery, Myers jokingly asked his doctor to “go home and play some video games and get your thumbs limbered up.”)
There are several types of lung cancer surgery options, and the decision about which is best is based largely on the location of your cancer, its size and whether it has started to spread. A wedge resection is an option if the tumor is small and located on the outside of the lung. A lobectomy, or a segmentectomy, involves the removal of a certain segment of the lung (a lobe). During a pneumonectomy, however, the entire lung is removed.
There are several different ways to do lung cancer surgery. The standard operation used to be open surgery with a big incision in the chest and then spreading apart the ribs. But because of the pain after the operation and the lengthy recovery time, doctors are increasingly using less invasive operations including minimally invasive video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) and robotic techniques, like Myers’ doctors did at MU Health.
Myers spent three days recovering from lung cancer surgery in the hospital before he was cleared to go home. “For the first three or four days, things were a little painful, but it wasn’t significant,” he says. “I’ve had a full knee replacement, and it wasn’t near as painful as that.”
For the first two years post-op, Myers returned to MU Health every three to six months for additional scans. For the next three years after that, he had annual scans, and they all came back clear. His doctors were then able to tell him those magic words — “No evidence of disease.”
“I never had the sense that I battled this and won,” he says. “I just got lucky. I dodged a bullet.”
Contributing: SurvivorNet staff