For nearly 40 years Zoe Kirk had been smoking on a regular basis.
“I had been smoking regularly since I was in my twenties. I didn’t think much of my cough,” says Zoe, 60.
“I was more concerned because my father, mother and brother all had cancer. My father died of lung cancer. I figured it was time for me to get checked.”
After seeing an advertisement about CT lung scans that were offered for pack-a-day smokers over age 55, Zoe called the Sentara Cancer Network to learn more about what she could do. She didn’t want to be “another statistic,” as the advertisement stated.
Zoe was surprised with not only the results, but with how fast she received them. “It did not take long, I think it was maybe the next day that CT Lung Screening Navigator Robin McClelland, RN, called and said very gently that it didn’t look normal but not to worry,” stated Zoe. Robin had called to inform Zoe that a nodule was spotted in her left lobe. “Living on the Eastern Shore, Zoe was concerned about what her next steps should be,” Robin explained. Robin spoke with Zoe’s primary care physician to help facilitate and referrals to a surgeon and oncologist in Norfolk were made. “She had a biopsy and surgery within a few weeks and did great,” said Robin.
Zoe appreciated Robin’s guidance and reassurance through her surgery with Dr. Joseph Newton at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital and during her follow-up care. The two talked several times by phone and became fast friends. “We exchanged Christmas cards,” says Zoe. “She is so gentle and supportive and showed such empathy towards me.”
Fortunately, Zoe’s cancer was very small and hadn’t been there that long so she didn’t require chemotherapy or radiation. The left lobe of her lung was removed during surgery but Zoe was surprised by how quick the process was. “I had my first CT scan on November 6 and the surgery on December 30, so it all went very quickly and there wasn’t a lot of time to worry,” says Zoe. “I’ve told friends and acquaintances about the program – it saved my life. I’m so glad that I did this and the entire Sentara experience from start to finish was just wonderful.”
Zoe continues to get scans every three months but has been doing so well that recently her oncologist said that she may even just go to an x-ray. A year after her original scan detected a tumor, Zoe shows no evidence of cancer.
“Zoe’s case is a prime example of how beneficial the lung screening program can be,” says Robin. “Early detection equals early treatment, which can equal better outcomes.”
Zoe is just one example of the many patients that Robin has touched in a truly life-saving way. More than 800 patients have chosen to have screenings for early detection of lung cancer in 2015. Each one represents an opportunity to save a life by finding this deadly disease when the chance of a successful treatment is better.
A nurse navigator, a registered nurse with special training, is often the first person a potential patient might speak with to learn more information. Nurse navigators explain the high-risk criteria to the patient, and can facilitate communication with the patient’s primary care physician and specialists regarding appointments and results. Another key aspect is to discuss tobacco cessation with the patient to encourage current smokers to use this as a pivotal time to quit. Nurse navigators also help with long-term follow-up to ensure compliance for individuals whose scans may have been clear the first time, but who will need to continue getting annual screening.
Medicare, and several other insurance plans, now cover this important screening at no cost when a patient is referred by his or her physician. The implementation of this change in the program has generated more interest among current and former smokers. In order to meet the community’s needs, the Sentara Cancer Network invested in new processes to help make the program qualify for Medicare coverage, including participation in a national Lung Screening Registry to track compliance and outcomes. Sentara has also been recognized since early 2013 by the Lung Cancer Alliance as a Lung Cancer Screening Center of Excellence.