Health Victories

Janice East: Conquering Lung Cancer

Woman smiling outside

Janice East was born and raised in Crisp County which comprises Cordele, GA. After college she moved to Dublin, GA where she met her husband. They will have been married 30 years this summer.

June 2, 2020 is a day that Janice will forever remember. “I woke up around 6:45 a.m. and the minute I woke up and sat on the side of my bed, I knew something was not right. It felt like a horse kicked me in my lower back. It was a pain I had never felt before. I got up and told my husband and one of my sons that something wasn’t right. I wasn’t sure what it was, but thought it might be a kidney stone.”

Janice decided to take a walk around the house and take a hot shower to see if the pain eased off. After about an hour the pain was still there and she decided to go to the emergency room. “My husband and I own a Goodyear store. He went to open up the store and one of my twin boys stayed behind to take me to the emergency room.”

When Janice arrived at the ER the staff decided to move forward with a CT scan. “The results came back and the nurse reported that I had a 4-millimeter kidney stone. However, that is not the only thing they found on the CT scan. She also said that there was a 2 centimeter non-calcified lung nodule. I had never even heard of this and immediately asked what it was and if it was cancer.”

The nurse assured Janice that it was ok and that these thing show up on CT Scans from time to time. “I was in shock. I had never smoked a day in my life. I was thinking how this could happen. It didn’t make sense.” The nurse recommended seeing a urologist to take care of the kidney stone first. “Thankfully, I was able to pass the kidney stone and didn’t have to have a procedure.”

Janice saw her primary care doctor on June 19. Her doctor scheduled a PET scan on June 25, because they thought it might be cancer. “This really upset me to hear the word ‘PET scan’. It was frightening.”

After Janice got home, she received a call from her primary care doctor with her results. “My doctor asked me to sit down and told me that when something is cancerous there will be increased activity. My scan showed very minimalistic activity. It was recommended for me to see a pulmonologist in Dublin for further evaluation.”

The pulmonologist in Dublin referred me to the Georgia Cancer Center to see Dr. Shaheen Islam. Islam is the director of the Interventional Pulmonology program at Augusta University Health. “When I met with Dr. Islam he scheduled a CT scan with contrast. The team was hopeful it would be a benign tumor. Afterwards, he recommended doing a bronchoscopy, because the tumor was sitting in the middle of my lower lobe. Dr. Islam believed that he could biopsy it.”

A few days passed when Janice received a call from Dr. Islam’s office. “I was at the courthouse when they called me. I remember where I was at work when they called. He told me that I had a carcinoid tumor and it was going to need to be removed, because it was cancerous. I slid down the wall hearing those words. A wave of emotions came over me. Dr. Islam assured me that he had a great team and was optimistic.”

In August, she met with Dr. Robert Rice, a thoracic surgeon affiliated with Augusta University Medical Center, to discuss her case. On September 23, he performed a robotic right lower lobectomy. She was sent to 6 North after surgery. “I had the absolute best staff. They were wonderful to me from the minute I woke up to the minute I rolled out of there on September 28.”

After surgery, Janice received her final report and was told that they took out nine lymph nodes and every single one of them was negative. They told her there were no other tumors in her body and that she was cancer free. No additional treatment was needed.

“This all happened because of a kidney stone. Dr. Islam inquired how I discovered the tumor. When I told him it was because of a kidney stone he couldn’t believe it. I listened to my body and knew something wasn’t right. If I didn’t go in, it would have been a very different story for me in about two years. I am not on any medication and have a great health track record. I don’t drink or smoke. I had zero symptoms, which just makes this so fascinating.”

Janice will go back after one year to have a surveillance scan to make sure everything still looks good.

Luckily, Janice had a strong support system throughout this process. “My mother passed away during all of this, so it was a very emotional time for me. My faith really carried me through each day. Everyone was so gracious and kind. They helped reassure me. The hardest thing was the day Dr. Islam called and told me what it was and having to tell my family I had cancer. My husband and three sons were so stoic and so strong. They are the greatest blessings in my life. They reassured me that I would beat this. My family has been unbelievable. I had so many prayer warriors, church friends, and the wonderful staff at Georgia Cancer Center to help me along the way. For several weeks, I opened my mailbox and had so many cards filled with words of encouragement. I have all the confidence in the world in the Georgia Cancer Center.”

To anyone that just found out they have cancer, Janice has some words of advice. “I would recommend meet with your doctor and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If it is something that Georgia Cancer Center can help you with, I would highly recommend receiving care through them. The staff was fabulous and I had some of the best doctors I could have ever imagined. Dr. Islam and Dr. Rice equally answered my questions and were patient with me. It meant a lot. I felt like they cared about my situation. I would highly recommend starting treatment with Georgia Cancer Center.”

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