Raising awareness about the importance of lung cancer screenings is an issue that is near and dear to Maryanne Sheckman’s heart. Last year, a screening saved her life.
“If I can give one piece of advice to current or former smokers it would be to have a lung screening,” says Sheckman of Swampscott. “If cancer is detected, tackle the disease head-on and be strong. The earlier you can catch and treat your disease, the better the outcome.”
Things could have turned out very differently for Sheckman if not for a newspaper article she read last year about lung cancer screenings. The article reported the findings of a study where individuals at risk for lung cancer had significantly better success rates at fighting the disease when they were diagnosed early.
“Knowing I had been a cigarette smoker, that article really impacted me,” says Sheckman, who smoked for a number of decades. “I knew I had to take action.” Sheckman discussed her concerns with her NSMC primary care physician James Gottschall, M.D., who recommended a CT, or computerized tomography scan, at NSMC Union Hospital.
Sheckman’s worst fear was confirmed when NSMC radiologist, Sarah Whitehead, M.D., reviewed the CT scan results and discovered a mass on the upper lobe of Sheckman’s right lung. After receiving the news, Sheckman immediately assumed the worst.
Because the cancer was detected early, however, Mass General/North Shore Cancer Center oncologist Rachael Rosovsky, M.D., M.P.H., and NSMC thoracic surgeon Dean Donahue, M.D., were able to work together on a treatment plan for Sheckman. Dr. Donahue performed surgery to remove the tumor in the upper lobe of her right lung.
“Because Maryanne’s cancer was diagnosed early, she was able to have a minimally invasive procedure to remove the cancerous tumor. Her recovery time was minimal and within a few weeks she was back to living a normal life,” says Dr. Donahue. “With any cancer, the key to a good prognosis, like Maryanne’s, is early detection.”
Throughout Sheckman’s recovery, Dr. Rosovsky has played an active role, following up with her every six months for an evaluation. At which time, they review her scans and health habits.
Watch Maryanne tell her story >>
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that individuals aged 55-80 who currently smoke or have smoked heavily (30-plus pack years) within the past 15 years should be screened annually for lung cancer. Made up of primary care providers, nurses and health behavior specialists, the USPSTF makes evidence-based recommendations about clinical preventive services.
North Shore Medical Center currently offers low dose CT scan lung cancer screenings for these patients at locations in Salem and Lynn. Low dose CT scans use X-rays to provide three-dimensional views of bones and soft tissue inside of the body. The scan can detect lung cancer in the early stages and improve opportunities for treatment.
Throughout her journey, Sheckman has been continually impressed with the support of her doctors, nurses, friends and family. As a show of support, a close friend of Sheckman had a white pearl necklace made into two bracelets for each of them to wear.
“The color white symbolizes lung cancer awareness,” say Sheckman, who is now cancer-free. “When I wear it, it makes me realize how fortunate I am to be here. All thanks to my care team and early screening. Awareness and early detection saved my life and I hope by spreading the word I can save others. ”