Life-Saving Advice: How Beth’s Lung Cancer Screening Led to Renewed Health
When Beth’s childhood friend insisted, she get a lung screening because of her history of smoking, Beth honestly didn’t think there was anything to worry about. “At first I told her, ‘Leave me alone,’” laughed Beth Gamber, a recently retired legal assistant, mother, and grandmother. Beth continued, “Even though I was a smoker, I mistakenly figured I was too young to have to worry about cancer.”
Beth’s friend is Debbie Simon, an oncology community education and outreach specialist at Crozer Health. Debbie knows how important it is to detect cancer early. She encouraged Beth to take advantage of Crozer Health’s Lung Screening Program.
“Debbie and I have been friends for over 40 years. She’s more like a sister. So, when she continued to bug me about it, I finally had to listen,” Beth said. “I can’t even think where I would be now if not for Debbie nagging me every day to get a scan. That probably saved my life.”
Life-Saving Lung Screening
Beth had been experiencing some shortness of breath, but she assumed it was due to the smoking. In August 2014, she had a lung cancer screening. To minimize the amount of radiation exposure to patients, Crozer Health radiologists use a low dose of radiation when performing lung cancer screening.
“When they told me that they saw a nodule and it could be cancer, I was shocked and scared,” recalled Beth. A nodule is a tumor that is less than three centimeters in diameter. Beth continued, “Cancer runs in my family on my mother’s side, but I never thought I would get cancer at 56. All I could think about was that I had three children and I wanted to see them get married, have children, and watch their children grow up.”
After the CT scan, Beth was referred to Delaware County Memorial Hospital’s thoracic surgeon Dr. James Ortmeyer, a pulmonologist (lung specialist). A nurse navigator, Patricia Hollenback, was also assigned to helped coordinate Beth’s care plan and facilitate communication with the various physicians and specialists.
Beth’s thoracic surgeon told her they suspected the nodule was cancerous and explained her treatment options. A biopsy would help the clinical team know for sure if it was cancer. (A biopsy is a procedure to remove a sample of tissue from the body to examine it for disease.) However, Beth insisted that they remove the nodule. Beth recounted, “I told the doctor to take it out now. I wanted to have the nodule removed entirely because of my family history. I didn’t see the need for two procedures.”
In November 2014, Beth underwent a wedge resection. Through three small incisions, a small part of Beth’s lung was removed to take out the nodule. Soon after, it was confirmed that the nodule was cancerous. It was stage 1B, an early stage of lung cancer that is 100 percent curable.
After surgery, Beth was in the intensive care unit (ICU) for several days, where she received intensive nursing care and monitoring. Beth can’t say enough about her care in the hospital.
“Every nurse, every doctor, everyone at Delaware County Memorial Hospital was wonderful. Anything I needed, they got for me. I felt like I was their only patient,” shared Beth. “They all made me feel at ease and assured me that I was receiving the best care, which I did. Any questions were always answered with honesty.”
Beth remembered, “Within hours of the operation, the nurses got me up walking. And every day I was in the ICU the physical therapist would come in and get me walking.” Walking is important after surgery to reduce the chance of blood clots. It was also important for Beth to build up her lung strength.
She continued, “To get inside my home at the time, I had to go up a flight of stairs. So, when I returned home from the hospital, I had to go up the stairs backwards on my backside because I was still so weak. There were 19 steps; I counted!” A physical therapist soon started coming to Beth’s house as part of her recovery. “My PT routine included doing those steps!”
Beth didn’t work for eight weeks after the surgery and needed extra oxygen therapy to help her breathe. “In January 2015, I was able to return to work and used a portable oxygen tank while traveling to and from the office,” recounted Beth. Eventually, Dr. Ortmeyer helped Beth wean off the oxygen therapy; today she no longer needs extra oxygen.
“Dr. Ortmeyer was wonderful throughout this ordeal,” Beth said. He always made me feel listened to. Every time I had a complaint or question, he responded with care and kindness.” Beth continues to take medication for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) — a group of lung diseases that block airflow and make it difficult to breathe. She also has a CT scan every year to check her lungs. “Today I am feeling pretty good,” Beth shared. “I continue to have days where I am short of breath, but that comes with the years of abuse to my body with smoking.”
Beth smoked up until the day of her lung screening. She recounted, “When they found the nodule, that very day I stopped smoking — cold turkey!” Beth continues to care for herself by taking her medication and living life with a positive attitude. After losing her husband to brain cancer when he was 37, Beth understands more than most that we cannot take life for granted.
“Every day you spend with your family and friends is another blessing from God,” Beth said. She continued, “I am forever grateful that I was given a second chance in life. And I am forever grateful for my friend, Debbie, and Crozer Health’s Cancer Outreach Program.”
Now living with her daughter, son-in-law, and their two children, Beth enjoys traveling with her friends and going to the beach. “But, most of all, I love being home with my children and grandchildren. They are my reason for living. I was meant to be a mother and Nana, and I love them all to the moon and back.”
Beth encourages everyone to take care of their health. “Remember, there are many people in this world who love you and need you, so you need to take care of yourself,” Beth advised.
“Listen to your family and friends; they want what’s best for you,” she continued. “If you’re over 50 and have a history of smoking, get a lung screening. It saved my life, and it could save yours.”