“Don’t be afraid of lung cancer screening: it saved my life.”

Cordia M. (center) with Kathleen Silard (President and CEO, Stamford Health) and Michael I. Ebright, MD (Vice Chair, Department of Surgery and Director of Thoracic Surgery, Stamford Health) at Stamford Health’s Shine a Light on Lung Cancer event. Stamford Health on November 14, 2022.

Cordia M. felt fine. She ate well and took care of herself. She stopped smoking 23 years ago. So last April’s routine chest X-ray, which revealed spots on her lungs and led to a diagnosis of stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), came as a shock.

“I was shocked,” recalls Cordia, 76, a former Stamford Hospital employee. “I had no symptoms.”

Having lost her mother and fiance to lung cancer, she feared the diagnosis would be a death sentence. “I knew stage 4 meant metastasis. I was petrified.”

Then, Bennett Cancer Center medical oncologist Christopher J. Del Prete, MD, and oncologist Frank A. Masino, MD explained that her disease might be curable.

“I almost fell off my chair,” says Cordia.

“Dana-Farber brings Bennett Cancer Center to the next level.”

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among men and women in the United States. NSCLC, the most common type of lung cancer, comprises about 85% of all cases. Cure depends on screening, early detection and treatment.

Less than a year after receiving what she thought was a fatal diagnosis, Cordia ended intensive radiotherapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy, which stopped the spread of the cancer and continue to shrink her tumors.

“I cannot praise my doctors and the Bennett Cancer Center at Stamford Hospital enough,” she says. “They (and of course God) really saved my life.”

As part of the marketing team at Stamford Health, Cordia was familiar with the state-of-the-art facilities and technology at the Bennett Cancer Center. She had friends who got excellent treatment there. The center’s collaboration with the renowned Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center in Boston also impressed her.

“Stamford Health’s affiliation with Dana-Farber takes the Bennett Cancer Center to the next level,” she says. “Their partnership is a big deal.”

“Everyone was working together for my treatment.”

Before starting the treatment, Cordia brought out a notebook full of questions, noting Dr. Del Prete for handwritten questions she could retrieve more easily than finding them on her phone. “He answered all my questions,” she says. “He wouldn’t leave the room until he did.”

The tumor boards of both centers met frequently to discuss his case. “They evaluate each patient individually and get a consensus of opinions from multiple doctors for each decision, which is important because there are so many clinical trials and treatments, and everyone’s cancer is different,” says Cordia. “I was very impressed with the way Bennett Cancer Center worked with Dana-Farber to create a sophisticated plan. I felt like everyone was working together for my treatment.”

Her treatment involved three eight-hour infusions of immunotherapy and targeted chemotherapy and radiation that targeted her tumors to spare surrounding healthy tissue.

“Cancer treatment is not what it used to be. There are all kinds of medicines, so you don’t feel sick from chemotherapy, and people are on call 24/7 to help if you have some side effect,” she says.

Also, their treatment team was approachable. “Radiation oncologists aren’t hiding behind closed doors – their offices are right around the corner from the waiting room,” she says. “There were a few times in radiology where I cried because I loved the people. They are incredible.”

In August, Cordia’s PET scan showed a tumor shrinking from 3 inches to half an inch, as well as a second tumor shrinking and a general reduction in cancer activity.

“Being diagnosed… is not a death sentence.”

The compassionate care she received soothed and encouraged her. “The people at Bennett Cancer Center, even those behind the front desk, are Florence Nightingales, from beginning to end,” she says. “The chemo rooms are individualized and the nurses are very knowledgeable and kind. There was never a pinch when they inserted a needle. I once had a small reaction and within a minute there were 10 people in the room.”

Cordia hopes her experience can help others at the beginning of their cancer journey.

“Being diagnosed with something like this is not a death sentence,” she says. “There are people living with stage 4 cancer because there are so many treatments out there.”

As NSCLC is curable with early detection and treatment, screening is vital. Annual lung cancer screenings with low-dose CT scans – such as Stamford Health’s Lung Cancer Screening Program – are recommended for people who:

  • Have a smoking history of 20 packs/year or more and
  • Smoking now or having quit within the last 15 years, and
  • They are between 50 and 80 years old.

Aside from the occasional tiredness, Cordia has returned to being the “hotbed of life” that she always was. So much so that she forgets about the cancer.

“I feel great!” she says, praising the Bennett Cancer Center and its partnership with the Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center. “They are what health care should be.”

“Don’t be afraid of lung cancer screening: it saved my life.”

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