Lung cancer survivors detail battles amid advances in screening and treatment

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CLEVELAND (WJW) – November marks National Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and while lung cancer remains the deadliest form of cancer, there have been promising new advances in screening and treatment.

“He said, ‘I fear you have cancer,’ and I looked at him, and I said, not one tear, I said, ‘Well, I guess I need to pray a little harder, don’t I?’” said 65-year-old Marilyn Chapman of Akron.

Chapman was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer four years ago this month. The former smoker, who then switched to vaping until her cancer diagnosis, has been fighting lung cancer ever since.

“I asked God, ‘Give me a great doctor, give me a great medicine,’” Chapman said.

Christine Ash, 71, of Mayfield Village, is an 18-year lung cancer survivor.

“You need to be proactive,” she said of seeking early detection and treatment.

Also a former smoker, Ash undergoes regular testing and has had multiple procedures and treatments for recurrences.

This year, she underwent a robotic bronchoscopy using new technology to obtain a sample for a biopsy that revealed a cancerous spot in her lung tissue, leading to targeted radiation in September.

“I’m fortunate, 18 years, I hope to have a few more,” Ash said. “They seem to think I don’t need to plan my funeral.”

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women. It’s also the deadliest cancer.

More people die of lung cancer every year than of colon, prostate and breast cancers combined, according to the American Cancer Society.

“It has basically been the number one cancer killer going back decades,” said Dr. Benjamin Young, Medical Director of Bronchoscopy at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.

Young said most patients don’t develop symptoms until the cancer has reached advanced stages, making it more difficult to treat.

However, deaths are falling as people quit smoking and advances are made in screenings and treatment.

Low-dose CT scan screenings are available to people at high risk for lung cancer, who are older and current or former smokers.

Regular screenings for cancer dropped amid the pandemic, but the American Cancer Society said they remains important in early detection and treatment of cancer.

There have also been promising advances in chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments for lung cancer.

“The fact that someone had stage four disease and is alive four years later, ten years ago that was unheard of,” Young said.

Chapman — beating the odds — has received successful immunotherapy infusions every three weeks since her diagnosis.

She credits her doctors, treatment, support system and strong faith for keeping her alive.

“I’m not dying from cancer. I will not die from cancer,” she said. “I’m living proof. I’m here, and it’s not going to get me.”

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