When LUNG FORCE Hero Denise L. first saw a billboard for Saved By The Scan and the lung cancer screening eligibility quiz, she hadn’t heard of low-dose CT scans or early detection for lung cancer. But seeing that sign helped set in motion the path to detecting her lung cancer early and ultimately saving her life. We sat down to talk to Denise more about her journey.
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in Detroit, went to college at Howard University in Washington D.C. and worked for the Department of Labor. I moved to California to attend the University of Santa Clara Law School, where I graduated in 1989 and passed the bar in 1990. I worked as a public defender for almost 28 years and retired in December of 2017.
What was your reaction the first time you saw a Saved By The Scan billboard?
When I first saw the “Saved By The Scan” billboard, I didn’t know what a low-dose CT scan was. I was a former smoker and didn’t know that early detection was available. I thought that the only way to find lung cancer was through a chest X-ray.
After seeing the billboard, I went to SavedByTheScan.org and took the screening eligibility quiz, which indicated that I might be eligible for screening.
What was it like talking to your doctor about lung cancer screening?
Based on the information that she had, my doctor did not initially order the test. Later, during a visit with my doctor about a cold, I decided to follow up about the scan and reiterated that I felt that I qualified for the test.
I decided to schedule the scan once I returned from vacation. The day after the scan, I got a call from a pulmonologist instead of my primary care physician. As it turned out, the primary care physician had referred me to this doctor. The pulmonologist sent me for a biopsy, and the next day I learned that I had a malignant tumor that was stage IB.
As a follow-up, I had a PET scan, pulmonary function test and a brain MRI. Then, I made an appointment to have lobectomy surgery to remove the tumor.
Can you walk us through your experience with surgery, did you require any follow-up treatment?
I had surgery and my doctor gave me therapies that helped to recover from the procedure. I went home about a week after the surgery with the assistance of my mother.
After surgery, I received chemotherapy for about four months to prevent recurrence of my cancer. My oncologist later told me about a clinical trial that I qualified for, which I decided to participated in. The clinical trial examined the role of immunotherapy in helping to prevent recurrence for those like me who had been tested for the PDL-1 protein.
Having outside support is so important for lung cancer patents. Can you tell us a little about the mentorship program you participated in and how it helped you?
During treatment, I needed support, so I talked to a representative at the health insurance company. They provided me with information about mentorship through Imerman Angels. I told them I was interested in mentorship, and so they connected me with Kerri, another lung cancer patient who had gone through a similar experience. She helped me with the emotional aspects and other facets of my recovery including getting a port placed.
Lung cancer stigma affects many people who are diagnosed with the disease. What would you want others to know about the impact of stigma?
One of the things that is really important when you’re living with lung cancer is having support. I shut some people out who wanted to help me because I was afraid that they would judge me for smoking. I was fortunate to have people in my life who were there for me and walked with me every step of the way. But I know that I could have had a wider circle of support had I not been afraid of the stigma.
What would you tell others who might have questions about lung cancer screening?
I always encourage others who may be eligible to speak with their physician about screening. I often say- one of the things that prompted me to get screened was that I knew that lung cancer is often not detected until it has spread. Early detection is key—regardless of the cancer.
How exciting is it to know that you were “Saved By The Scan?”
It feels great! I feel so grateful and blessed that I had a relatively easy experience.
As the “Saved By The Scan” campaign continues, what do you hope it will accomplish?
I hope that the billboards and other campaign materials continue to reach people like me! I also really benefited from reading the stories that were posted on SavedByTheScan.org. I hope that we’ll find a way to reach more people who are at high risk for developing lung cancer through outreach to the medical community!
Blog last updated: April 13, 2020