DECATUR -- Radine Cox is a lung cancer survivor.
Thirteen years ago, her doctors at the Decatur Memorial Cancer Care Institute didn’t give her much hope. With support from her family and her own determination, she has lived to tell her story.
“It was a tough journey,” she said. “I’m a warrior and I’m very blessed to be here.”
Cox, 68, was a guest speaker at the DMH Cancer Care Institute’s “Shine a Light on Lung Cancer” ceremony on Thursday. Her message, shared with an audience of lung cancer survivors, doctors, hospital employees and newly diagnosed patients, was one of survival.
“I hope I can give other people hope,” Cox said.
The event included live music, refreshments, speakers and a lighting ceremony.
Thursday’s event marks the third year for the ceremony. Administrators designed the event to bring lung cancer awareness to the community and "to raise hope and let them know we are here,” said Jill Andrews, administrative director of radiation oncology.
“The Lung Cancer Association is improving the way in which they are treating the disease,” she said.
The ceremony is "a way to literally shine a light on it,” said Rachel Ward, community outreach coordinator for the radiation oncology department. “It is all about breaking down the stigma of lung cancer and to bring awareness that it is a killing disease.”
Lung cancer has the highest mortality rate compared to other cancers, including breast, pancreatic, prostate and colon, according to the American Cancer Society.
“We strongly push other screening, as we should,” said Imaging Navigator Jeri Ann Higgins. “But we are so far behind (with) lung cancer screening tests.” Higgins is an advocate for testing. She spoke at Thursday’s ceremony about the importance of early detection through lung cancer screenings.
Patients interested in screenings will need a physician’s request. Screenings are suggested for those between the ages of 55 and 77 and for people who are or who were a smoker with a 30-pack a year history of smoking. “Which means one pack every day for 30 years, or 2 packs for 15 years,” Higgins said.
Finding the cancer in its early stage means “you have a lot more treatment options,” Higgins said. Usually, by the time symptoms appear, the cancer has advanced to stage three or four, she explained. “If it is found at stage one, your survival rate is much higher,” she said.
Symptoms include blood in the saliva, shortness of breath and chest pain. “In the early stages, there are no symptoms,” Higgins said. “By the time you show symptoms, you are at stage three or four.”
Only 4 percent of smokers took advantage of lung cancer screenings when they became available to the public in 2016, said Dave Overlot, executive director of radiology at the hospital. The screenings are covered by most insurance companies and Medicare.
“It is a 5-minute scan,” Overlot said. “And it is not painful.”
Overlot says he understands the fear people may have about being screened, but those fears should not deter them.
“You don’t want to ignore it till it goes away,” he said. “The unknown is bad.”