Nancy's Journey with Lung Cancer

The journey began with a knock at the door. Nancy Owen, 50, ran downstairs. A postman asked her to sign for a registered letter. Surprised, she closed the door and opened the envelope. Inside was a brief letter from UnityPoint Clinic Multi-Specialty Pulmonologist Dr. Hamad Azam asking her to return for a follow-up appointment.
 Nancy prior to surgery
 Nancy and her son, John
Owen racked her brain. Why had she seen Azam? She faintly remembered meeting the doctor a year before, after a small shadow showed on an image. But she’d not thought of the issue since then; in fact, she’d completely forgotten about that appointment.

Owen, a mother of three, wasn’t worried. She called for an appointment.

“I had no symptoms. I’d never smoked, I’d been sober for years, I’d been working out all summer, and I’d lost 50 pounds after realizing baby weight was no longer a legitimate excuse when my youngest was now 17 years old!” she said.

She met with Dr. Azam in late July 2017. He recommended further tests. Though Owen was certain nothing was wrong, she trusted the doctor’s recommendation and scheduled a PET scan the following month at St. Luke’s Hospital.

Owen was on a classroom break when she received a phone call. Dr. Azam told her the PET scan showed a mass on her lung. He explained a biopsy would be needed to further assess this mass. Just four days later, Dr. Azam phoned Owen with the news: adenocarcinoma. Lung cancer.

“I’m rarely speechless or at a loss for words,” said Owen. “But I was numb and could only listen and ask a few basic questions.”

Dr. Azam explained that this type of cancer sometimes spreads to the brain. He scheduled her for an MRI of the brain.

“I was truly scared by that,” shared Owen. “Localized cancer is one thing. I’d survived thyroid cancer four years before. But the idea of the cancer spreading to my brain shook me to the core.”

Owen was overjoyed to learn the cancer had not spread. From there, things moved rapidly. She underwent lung function tests. Owen learned some people with lung cancer are treated with radiation or chemotherapy. Because of her age, healthy lung function, and overall excellent health, she was an ideal candidate for surgery.

During a consultation, Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa Cardiothoracic Surgeon James Levett, MD, explained that lungs contain two left lobes and three right lobes. He outlined her options and ultimately it was decided Owen would have a lobectomy to remove her entire right lower lobe, the best approach to ensure all the cancer was removed.

On October 8, 2018 Owen underwent the lobectomy at St. Luke’s.

“I remember waking up in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and being surrounded by beeping machines and friendly people,” said Owen. “Nurse ‘Anthony the Angel’ sat with me through one of the longest nights of my life.”

Owen was later transferred out of ICU and to St. Luke’s cardiothoracic floor, where she began taking short assisted walks and using an incentive spirometer, a breathing device to help expand her lungs to prevent them from collapsing. After five days at St. Luke’s she went home.

“I had an excellent care team with Drs. Levett, Azam, and my primary care doctor, Monica Minjeur from UnityPoint Clinic Family Medicine,” said Owen. “Thank goodness for physical therapy and yoga,” adds Nancy. “My physical therapist, Kris Dupont, has been able to separate adhesions and work on scar tissue to give me a wider range of motion.” 

“I also have wonderful friends, family, and children. My 88-year-old father took me to surgery and my 17-year-old son, John, drove me to all my follow-up appointments and did the grocery shopping.”

Owen shared her journey on social media. Her hope is someone out there will benefit from reading her story. Perhaps they will stop smoking, schedule an annual physical with their healthcare provider or check in with their doctor if something just doesn’t seem right with their health. 

St. Luke's Lung Check

St. Luke's Lung Check is an effective screening to diagnose lung cancer and can find cancer at its earliest stage.
St. Luke's Lung Check includes a chest CT scan which is a rapid, non-invasive test using low-dose x-rays which provides detailed, three-dimensional images of the lungs. The entire chest is scanned between 7 and 15 seconds.Radiologists review images for the presence of small spots on the lungs, called nodules. 

Lung Check is recommended for:

  • Men or women between the ages of 55 and 77
  • Have smoked at least one pack a day for 30 years or more or two packs per day for 15 years
  • Those who quit smoking less than 15 years ago and smoked one or more packs a day or 15 or more years

To schedule your appointment or for more information call the Community Cancer Center care coordinator at (319) 558-4876.

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