When Joan Daniels bought a voucher for two full-body scans for her and her husband on a whim, she never expected that decision would save her life.
“My husband and I are getting older, and I thought the idea of a whole-body CT scan sounded like a good place to start to get a snapshot of our health”, the 72-year-old says. “It was a simple process, and they said they would call in a few days with the results.”
When the call came that the scan had detected a few small spots on her left lung, Joan was surprised but not worried because she had quit smoking decades ago. She had no symptoms and was feeling fine.
Joan took her scan results to her primary care physician who reviewed them and referred her to a pulmonologist at Methodist Richardson Medical Center. The hospital’s well-regarded cancer center offered comprehensive treatment close to Joan’s home in Wylie.
Another look at her lungs, this time a positron emission tomography, or PET scan, was followed by an endobronchial ultrasound to sample the nodes. A biopsy revealed the spots were cancer.
“It was a shock to learn that not only were the spots cancerous, but that they were advanced, stage-three lung cancer,” Joan says.
EACH CANCER IS DIFFERENT
Joan was referred to Sam Bibawi, MD, hematologist and oncologist on the medical staff at Methodist Richardson.
Dr. Bibawi quickly put together an aggressive, tailored treatment plan for Joan that would include state-of-the-art chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy.
“I appreciated how thorough his team was right from the start,” Joan says.
Crafting a unique plan for each lung cancer patient is critical to their treatment, Dr. Bibawi says, because every cancer is different.
“Each patient requires an individualized approach,” he says. “To ensure the best outcome for Joan and her cancer, I ordered radiation five days a week for six weeks coupled with chemotherapy once a week for the same duration.”
T-cells attack a cancer cell in this 3D rendering.
HOW IMMUNOTHERAPY WORKS
Immunotherapy is the newest tool in the oncologist’s toolbox and can take many forms, from medications that take the “brakes” off the immune system to T-cell therapy, which teaches the body’s natural infection-fighting cells to search out and destroy cancer cells.
“Immunotherapy is one of the latest tools in fighting cancer,” Dr. Bibawi says. “It trains one’s own immune system to fight the cancer.”
Expecting to feel overwhelmed, Joan had her brother from Georgia come to town so she would have some moral support for her visit with Dr. Bibabwi. But she found herself grasping the road ahead with a sense of complete trust in the doctor’s plan.
All through her radiation and chemotherapy, Joan remained positive and suffered few side effects. Immunotherapy presented a new challenge because she lost her appetite completely.
“I had lost a lot of weight during radiation and chemo, but it really accelerated with the immunotherapy,” Joan says. “One day I fell in my living room and banged myself up so badly my husband had to take me to the hospital.”
Joan had her last treatment in March and has learned she’s in remission.
Joan would spend the next three months at a rehab center recovering from her fall before resuming her cancer treatment.
That time had a silver lining because it was during her stay at the Methodist Richardson Cancer Center that she got back into crafting and painting, hobbies she gave up to care for her mother as she battled emphysema.
“I had missed creating art, and it felt so good to have a paintbrush back in my hand after all those years,” Joan says.
Soon, Joan was healed enough to return home and resume her immunotherapy treatments to finish treating her lung cancer. Her last treatment was on March 31.
“Since that day Dr. Bibawi has said that I am in total remission,” she says. “God led me to Methodist, and I will always feel immense gratitude for Dr. Bibawi and his handpicked team.”
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