An Unexpected Battle With Lung Cancer
- Debbie Cihoski, 66, thought the constant itchiness she was feeling on a bump under her left armpit was a mosquito bite, however, a trip to the dermatologist revealed the unusual skin growth was a type of lymphoma.
- The woman who doesn’t smoke and has no family history of the disease was surprised to learn the itchy bump on her skin was a cutaneous T- cell lymphoma, which led to a discovery that revealed she also had lung cancer.
- Now, cancer-free, the woman is urging others to ‘listen to their bodies, if you see something, say something.’
The 66-year-old woman, who doesn’t smoke, has no family history of the disease, and never worked in an environment that exposed her to carcinogens, was shocked to learn the itchy bump on her skin was a type of lymphoma, a discovery that revealed she also had lung cancer.Read More
She explained, “The lump was actually a cutaneous T- cell lymphoma. This led to me having a pet scan which then revealed a spot on my lung, which was stage one lung cancer. If not for that little bump, I never would have known, I had no other symptoms.”
Following her diagnosis, Dr. Nabil Rizk, a thoracic surgeon with the John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center, advised her to get a lung segmentectomy as a treatment instead of chemotherapy or radiation.
HackensackMeidian Health describes lung segmentectomy as a surgery that removes the lung disease without removing the excess normal lung. The procedure, which is usually recommended for early non-small cell lung cancer, allows the lung to continue functioning.
“It was the best option for me, I was able to go home right after the procedure and I didn’t even need the pain medication,” Cihoski said of the surgery which removed the tumor and nearby lung tissue.
“During Lung Cancer Awareness Month, I encourage everyone to listen to their bodies, if you see something, say something, it’s what saved my life,” the cancer survivor added.
What is Lymphoma?
Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that is broken up into two separate categories: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The main difference between the two is that Hodgkin lymphoma has distinctive, giant cells called Reed-Sternberg cells. The presence of these cells, which can be seen under a microscope, will help your doctor determine which of the two lymphoma types you have. So, if these cells are not present then that points to non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
What makes this cancer even more complex is that non-Hodgkin lymphoma has two subtypes: B-cell or T-cell lymphoma (two infection fighting cells). About 85% of people diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma will have B-cell lymphoma. These cells produce antibodies – proteins that react to foreign substances like viruses or bacteria in your body. The antibodies attach to another protein on the surface of the invading cells, called an antigen, to target and destroy them.
Recognizing symptoms of lymphoma can be tricky, which can sometimes lead to late stage diagnoses. However, most common signs to look for include: swollen glands in your neck, armpit, or groin, fever, chills, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, consistent fatigue, or spontaneous swelling in the stomach.
Treating Stage 1 Lung Cancer
Stage one lung cancer means that your cancer is only in your lungs and has not started to spread to your lymph nodes or beyond your lungs to other organs throughout your body. When you are diagnosed with lung cancer your medical team will conduct a series of tests to determine what stage the cancer is and how to best treat your lung cancer. The process of conducting additional tests and imaging studies is called lung cancer staging and is the backbone of what informs treatment decisions.
Cancer that is localized to the lung and has not spread to lymph nodes or other organs throughout the body is known as early-stage lung cancer and typically refers to stages 1 and 2.
The goal of treatment for early-stage lung cancer, especially stage 1 lung cancer, is the surgical removal of the tumor by using a procedure called a lobectomy.
After the cancer has been removed a definitive staging takes place. Once the cancer is removed a doctor known as a pathologist will take a closer look at the surgical specimen (what was removed during surgery) to evaluate several specific components that will help your doctors know what steps (if any) may be needed next.
Women Advocating For Themselves
One of the most important things that every individual should know is that when it comes to taking control and prioritizing your health, being your own advocate can be a life-saving decision.
April Knowles was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at 39 years old. During a routine visit to her gynecologist, they found a lump in her breast but initially dismissed it and blamed it on her period. However, the lump remained, and Knowles pushed to go through a PET scan and biopsy. Turns out, it was the best decision she could have made, because the tests revealed that she had breast cancer in her spine and hip. This experience taught her the importance of speaking up for yourself and always pushing for answers if you feel like something is wrong.
“I think women, especially young women, are really used to being dismissed by their doctors,” Knowles previously told SurvivorNet. “Or ‘you’re too young for this,’ or ‘here’s some Prozac, go home and cook dinner for your children.’ I think a lot of patients don’t want to hurt their doctor’s feelings either. We really do want our doctors to like us. But you have to take charge. You have to learn about your disease. You have to ask questions.”
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff