Conquering Lung Cancer with Early Detection: Bernadette’s Story

Posted by Perspectives Blog Team on Sep 23, 2015 11:30:00 AM

Bernadette and Friends

Bernadette Rahatt usually procrastinated about making appointments for medical tests, but when her primary care doctor advised her to undergo preventative screening for lung cancer, she promptly followed up. Rahatt, 64, a longtime smoker who had quit in 2010 following a stroke, scheduled a free screening at Einstein.

It was a good thing she did. Even though Rahatt looked and felt fine, a low-dose CT scan—a form of X-ray imaging that provides detailed cross-section pictures of the body—strongly suggested that she had lung cancer, albeit in its early stages.

Happily, early detection made all the difference in the world for Bernadette, leading to life-saving surgery at Einstein—and Rahatt could not be more thankful.

“For me, it’s God first, my doctor second, and the Einstein cancer crew third,” says Rahatt. “They enabled me to be able to see my kids and my grandkids again.”

Federal guidelines suggest that high-risk individuals undergo an annual low-dose CT scans.

Bernadette’s outcome might not have been as fortunate without preventative screening.

Federal guidelines suggest that high-risk individuals undergo an annual low-dose CT scans. The definition of “high risk” includes people between the ages of 55 and 77 who are current smokers or who quit less than 15 years ago, and who smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years.

Bernadette fell into that category. When her doctor recommended that she go for screening, she called Einstein—one of the most comprehensive centers for the evaluation and treatment of lung cancer in the region—which had introduced a free lung cancer screening program prior to it being an accepted medical benefit by insurers.

Rahatt’s first point of contact was patient navigator Tracy Kane, MEd, who explained the process and scheduled an appointment for the CT scan.

“We discussed what happens during the scan, as well as what the possible findings could mean and what the next steps would be, depending on the results. She was nervous about the test, but understood importance of early detection.”

The CT scan showed an abnormality. A subsequent PET scan confirmed it. Kane immediately scheduled an appointment for her with Doraid Jarrar, MD, Section Chief of Thoracic and Robotic Surgery at Einstein Healthcare Network and Co-director of the Lung Cancer Screening Program.

“Bernadette’s screening showed a nodule in her upper left lung that was suspicious for early stage lung cancer,” explains Dr. Jarrar. He spent the next hour reviewing the CT and PET scans with Rahatt, her daughter and Kane, and explained the need for surgery and removal of the nodule.

“Bernadette was fearful, and rightfully so,” he recalls. “Tracy and I appreciated and acknowledged her fear, and assured her and her daughter that we would take excellent care of her. I was confident that, because the spot was found so early on, we could cure any cancer she might have with surgery.

'Our goal at Einstein is to diagnosis lung cancer at the earliest possible stage so that it can be cured. That would have been practically unheard of before preventative screening. But now it’s possible.'—Tracy Kane, MEd

“When lung cancer is found early, it can be cured,” says Dr. Jarrar. “Early screening has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives every year.”

Unfortunately, the survival rate for lung cancer is not improving, because there is little awareness about the importance of preventative screening. “Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer for both men and women, because we often don’t know someone has it until it has spread to other parts of the body,” says Kane. “At that point, we may be able to treat it, be we can’t cure it. Our goal at Einstein is to diagnosis lung cancer at the earliest possible stage so that it can be cured. That would have been practically unheard of before preventative screening. But now it’s possible.”

On November 3, 2014, Dr. Jarrar performed Rahatt’s surgery at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia. Since the cancer was still small and only in one part of the lung, he proceeded with a partial lobectomy—also known as a lung resection—removing the cancer and surrounding tissue of Rahatt’s left lung. Partial removal of the lung is much more preferable than a full lobectomy, as it spares lung tissue, allowing the patient to maintain most of the lung function and has a shorter recovery time. This is yet another reason why early detection is so critical. Dr. Jarrar was able to use minimally invasive, video-assisted thoracic surgery for Rahatt’s resection, which requires only three to four small incisions at the site of the cancer.

Because surgery can provide an effective cure for stage I and II lung cancers, Rahatt did not need chemotherapy or radiation therapy. She now gets a CT scan before each of her follow-up visits to Dr. Jarrar—first on a monthly basis, then every six months, and soon, once a year.

“Bernadette can now pursue all of her dreams, interests and hobbies more vigorously than ever before,” says Dr. Jarrar.

Today, Bernadette is busier than ever. She scrapbooks, makes and sells jewelry at flea markets, and creates beautiful centerpieces for everyone she knows. And she credits the team at Einstein for making that a possibility.

“The Einstein crew was magnificent,” says Rahatt. “They are the most wonderful people. I was really scared, and Tracy was there for me the whole time. She was so sweet and she was up front with me. We became friends. The first time I talked to her was my first appointment with Dr. Jarrar. From that day on, we called each other, talked to each other, she kept me focused.  She let me know that if I did everything I was supposed to do, I was going to be fine. She kept with me. She even visited me in the hospital after my surgery. I don’t think I could have done it without Tracy.”

'Lung cancer screening is easy. If I can save one life, that’s my work.'—Bernadette Rahatt

And the feeling was mutual.

“Bernadette and I just clicked from the moment we met,” says Kane. “She’s a lovely woman, and a couple of times I spent my lunch just chatting with her, getting to know about her family and her daughter’s upcoming wedding plans. She always noticed what I was wearing—she’s very fashion-conscious. So whenever she comes in to see Dr. Jarrar, I always wear my best outfits and jewelry.”

“I have so much more respect for life now,” says Rahatt, whose home is filled with houseplants, a fish and a cat, and regular visits from the family who adores her. She may even go back to college. The mother of four children and grandmother of five earned her high school diploma in her 50s and began college at age 57, but had to put college on hold following her stroke. “I tell my grandchildren, if I could do it at 57, you can certainly do it at 18,” she says. While small in stature, it’s no wonder why her grandchildren call her “Big B.”

“You have to take care of yourself if you want to live,” continued Rahatt. “I want to tell everybody to go get checked. Lung cancer screening is easy. If I can save one life, that’s my work. I made my first call to Tracy on September 23, and on November 3, I was cancer free. I am so very thankful I made that call. I have great grandkids to meet in the future! I don’t want them to know of me, I want them to know me.”

  • Find out if you or a loved one is eligible for a preventative low-dose CT lung cancer screening at Einstein Healthcare Network. Call 215-456-8188 to speak with a patient navigator today.

Topics: Cancer

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Perspectives highlights the expertise and services provided by the physicians, specialists, nurses and other healthcare providers at Einstein Healthcare Network. Through this blog, we share information about new treatments and technologies, top-tier clinical teams and the day-to-day interactions that reinforce our commitment to delivering quality care with compassion. Here, you will also find practical advice for championing your health and wellness.

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