When she was 59 years old, Monique DeVries went for her annual physical. She felt good, had no problems to report, and proudly shared with her doctor that she had quit smoking for good two years ago. Here is when things took an amazing turn: armed with the information that Monique was a former, long-term smoker, the doctor strongly suggested that she have a CT scan. This lung cancer screening would establish a baseline assessment of her lungs. The scan showed a slight shadow. So slight, in fact, that Monique thought little of it.
Another CT Scan and Another Doctor
A year later, Monique was still not smoking. A repeat scan showed that the shadow was now denser. Again, she chalked it up to the fact that everyone has nodules, and this, she was sure, was nothing. In hindsight, Monique acknowledges that she was in denial of what she sensed might in fact be something, with her smoking history in the not-so-far recesses of her mind.
In the midst of Covid, Monique was eventually able to be seen by a pulmonologist who pulled no punches (and had a terrible bedside manner to boot). This doctor casually informed her that he would perform a wedge resection. And then, essentially, she could carry on with her life. As one can well imagine, this did not sit well with Monique or her husband. They held tight and waited to be seen by a thoracic surgeon. His approach was quite different.
Another Screening for Lung Cancer But a Different Approach
In December 2020, the surgeon took her hand and told her that he was not prepared to jump into anything. Because the last imaging had been five months prior, the surgeon ordered a repeat CT scan. That scan showed a growth in the tumor from approximately 6mm to 8mm. Her doctor decided to do a needle biopsy of Monique’s tumor. Although going into this procedure, she was told it might not work due to the size of the tumor.
Before the biopsy, the surgical team was uncertain as to where the tumor was growing. They thought it might be on the outside of the lung. This location would have made for both an easier biopsy and a simpler surgery. But it was, in fact, right in the middle of the right lobe. But the results also determined that Monique’s lung cancer was adenocarcinoma, pre-stage 1.
On February 17, 2021, Monique had the entire upper right lobe of her lung removed. Luckily, the margins were clear. She required no further medical intervention such as chemotherapy or radiation. As of August 2022 for this interview, Monique is NED (no evidence of disease).
“I look at life differently. I had a dear friend who died from cancer. She, like I, was a woman of faith. I will never forget her facing our congregation and simply stating: ‘we all have to die at some point.’ I know that I am going to a better place on the other side, so I am at peace.”
Lung Cancer Screening for Smokers is Critical
While one might that Monique’s lung cancer was a direct result of her having been a longtime smoker, it might not be entirely accurate. Monique also had other risks working against her. She grew up in a home where both her parents smoked. After a grand mal seizure, her mother was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. Further, Monique’s father died from throat cancer.
Monique DeVries came of age in the 1970s, a time when people started smoking in high school, and could light up in a restaurant, movie theater, plane, or any public space. Smoking was socially acceptable and smoking was prevalent. It was almost easier to find a smoker than a non-smoker. Monique continued to smoke for forty years…and then she quit for good in 2019.
While her smoking could, and probably did, play a role in her diagnosis, it really doesn’t paint the whole picture. The reality is that a person’s smoking history is an important part of their medical history but it is irrelevant to the level of care and concern they receive in the lung cancer community.
If You Have Lungs, You Can Get Lung Cancer
One thing that has become evident over the past several years, thanks to lung cancer research, is that the only fundamental determinant of whether someone will get lung cancer or not is if they have lungs. And, it really doesn’t matter why a patient got the disease, it matters that a cure for it is found.
In 2022, more than 1.9 million Americans are expected to be diagnosed with cancer – and early detection remains the best bet for successful treatment. Fewer than 1 in 7 lung cancer patients will be diagnosed in the earliest stage when the disease is most treatable. Monique was one of those lung cancer screening patient success stories.
The Latest Test Results
In the time since her diagnosis and surgery, Monique has had an ultrasound of her internal organs as well as a PET scan. Both were clear. Noting her complete lack of symptoms, Monique tells everyone she knows that they need to be proactive in their medical care. Start by asking your physician to order a low-dose CT scan to determine what might or might not be going on in your body.
Monique’s lung cancer story is an unusual one. She was fortunate to have had a proactive physician. And she is even more fortunate to have caught her tumor before it had the opportunity to become more invasive.