With the many advances in cancer treatment, today’s cancer patients have more and more reasons for hope. Portraits of Hope are the incredible stories of our patients and their journeys of hope and survival. Click on a thumbnail and scroll down to view each story.
Renee Bannister understands the exquisite intricacies of a precious jewel. Like a diamond, her smile shines bright and inviting when you meet her. It is no wonder she has specialized in the sale of these gems for more than 25 years.
A sales associate with a specialty jewelry business in Sumter, Renee actually put off undergoing a low-dose lung CT screening in the fall of 2018 because that is their busiest season of the year.
A smoker for 27 years, Renee says she always assumed at some point a physician would say to her “you have emphysema,” although she had quit smoking more than 15 years ago.
During a routine check-up in October 2018 with Dr. Lisa Heichberger at McLeod Primary Care Clarendon, Renee said Dr. Heichberger listened to her heart and lungs and said she did not hear anything of concern.
“I made a little ‘ahem’ noise, and she knew I thought something was wrong,” recalled Renee. “After discussing my smoking history and this funny little cough I had sometimes, Dr. Heichberger recommended I undergo a low-dose lung CT screening.”
In 2011, results of a national study of more than 53,000 patients -- both former and active smokers -- indicated that a low-dose CT scan of the chest provided greater detection of lung cancer than a chest X-ray. In the study comparing CT scans to chest X-rays in patients 55 to 75 years of age with a 30-pack-year history of smoking (smoking one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years), researchers found a 20 percent reduction in mortality using CT scans for diagnosis.
Based on the results of this trial, in December 2013, the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommended screening for lung cancer using a low-dose CT scan in patients who meet the following criteria: ages 55 to 80; cumulative smoking history of 30-pack years or more; who still smokes or who has this history but stopped smoking in the last 15 years; and who currently does not exhibit any symptoms of lung cancer.
“I waited until the middle of January when I knew I would have more time to travel to Florence for the scan,” said Renee. “The only symptom I had was the strange little cough every once in a while.”
Renee added that part of the reason she procrastinated undergoing the screening was because she really did not want to know if there was something wrong.
In January 2019, Dr. Heichberger received the results of Renee’s lung CT screening. After reviewing the results, Dr. Heichberger scheduled Renee for a PET scan. A Positron Emission Tomography scan reveals how organs and tissue are functioning. The scan confirmed the diagnosis of an early stage lung cancer. Renee said Dr. Heichberger immediately made arrangements for her to see Dr. Wayne Holley, a McLeod Thoracic Surgeon.
Renee recalls that during her first appointment with Dr. Holley he pulled up the images of her scans on the computer screen to review them with her. “He then sat down and drew a picture of the lung and said it is contained right now and you are lucky. Dr. Holley explained that most people come in and they are Stage IV, whereas my cancer was Stage I. He recommended removing the top third of my lung and did not feel I would need radiation or chemotherapy, only the surgery.”
“If we identify lung cancer early enough to completely remove the tumor, we have several treatment options available depending on the patient’s other medical conditions, general endurance, stamina and -- most importantly -- whether the cancer has spread,” explained Dr. Holley.
“Spotting the cancer early often allows us to remove the smallest amount of lung tissue possible. This may involve only part of a lung or an entire lung.” However, in three out of four cases, patients receive their diagnosis at advanced, inoperable stages, according to Dr. Holley. “As with most cancers, early detection remains the key to survival.”
At the end of February 2019, Dr. Holley performed a robotic lobectomy on Renee at McLeod Regional Medical Center.
Renee said that when Dr. Holley explained he would perform the procedure robotically she felt it sounded better than traditional lung cancer surgery which involves separating the ribs and large incisions. “Dr. Holley told me that I would have a few small incisions; however, I don’t even have a scar.”
Hospitalized for three days, Renee said that she had no issues with her recovery and did not need all of the pain medication prescribed.
Two weeks after her surgery, Renee had a follow-up appointment with Dr. Holley and five weeks later she returned to work. Six months after her procedure she underwent a repeat low-dose lung CT scan.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) recommends that most people who are successfully treated for an early-stage lung cancer receive imaging scans every six months for the first two years after treatment to watch for a recurrence.
Fortunately for Renee, a new CT scanner is being installed at McLeod Health Clarendon in Manning, so she will no longer have to travel to Florence for these scans.
“I know now that there really is nothing to be afraid of,” said Renee. “It is better to find something very early than it is to wait. I also feel very fortunate that I did not have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation.”
Dr. Holley says Renee is the ‘pictureperfect’ testimonial of what they want to accomplish through the McLeod Lung Cancer Screening Program. “Renee has no signs of recurrence or progression of cancer, and she appears cured.
“Until recently, we did not have reasonable tests for early detection because the tumors did not always show up well on X-rays,” explained Dr. Holley. “Historically, we waited until a patient developed symptoms of lung cancer -- either coughing up blood or shortness of breath -- before we tested them.
“We now know that this screening plays a crucial role in detecting lung cancer at earlier, more treatable stages. It simply has not gained the same level of awareness of other screenings, such as mammography for breast cancer and colonoscopy for colon cancer,” added Dr. Holley.
Renee believes Dr. Holley is “just the best of the best. I could not ask for any better doctor or amazing care than I received. You feel at ease with him right off the bat, and you know he cares about you. I feel lucky and blessed and extremely grateful that my cancer was detected early and only required a small procedure.”
For more information on the McLeod Lung Cancer Screening Program, please call (843) 777-5953.