Karen Lindquist, a Radiologic Technologist at Southern New Hampshire Health, knows first-hand how critical it is to discover lung cancer in its early stages.
Thirteen years ago, Lindquist sought medical care because of pain in her side. An abdominal CT scan unexpectedly discovered a mass in her lower right lung.
“I was one of those incidental findings,” she says. “An incidental finding is something extra found by a test that isn’t related to the reason your provider ordered the test.”
After a follow-up low dose lung CT scan and PET scan, Lindquist was sent to surgery.
“They figured it was probably a fatty tumor,” she says. “But when they sent a wedge section of the tumor to pathology, they determined it was cancerous.”
A projected two-hour surgery turned into a six-hour surgery, in which Lindquist had the bottom third of her right lung removed.
She followed that with four rounds of chemotherapy. Today, at 50 years old, she remains cancer free.
“Early detection saves lives,” says Lindquist, who has taken on the role of lung screening coordinator for Southern New Hampshire Health, working with providers to help patients qualify for low dose lung cancer screening. “I’ve seen it in my own life and with so many other people through my work.”
Lindquist is sharing her story as part of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, to encourage those who are at higher risk to be screened.
Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in the United States and worldwide. Smoking is the most common cause of lung cancer. Other risk factors include being exposed to secondhand smoke, having a family history of lung cancer, being treated with radiation therapy to the breast or chest and exposure to certain chemicals.
Medicare and most commercial insurances cover annual screening for lung cancer with low-dose CT scans in adults ages 50 to 77 who have a 20 pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.
If someone does not meet the qualifications, there is a self-pay option. The cost is $165, which includes the scan and the radiologist’s interpretation of the test.
Lindquist has never been a smoker, but both her parents and her two sisters were smokers. “I hate smoking,” she says. In fact, when being treated for lung cancer, she traveled to the statehouse to rally for the Clean Air Act, which would eventually ban smoking in New Hampshire’s restaurants and bars. A photo of her at the rally, pulling off the wig she was forced to wear because of hair loss during chemotherapy, was published in the local newspaper.
“I tell people all the time that early findings are what will save you,” Lindquist says. “It’s better to find out now, then months or years from now, when your cancer has progressed.”
She says having part of one lung missing hasn’t stopped her from doing anything.
In fact, Lindquist has competed in two Tough Mudders, teamwork-inspired obstacle races, and many other 5Ks.
“I know when we talk to some people, they say they don’t want to know, they’re afraid to get tested,” she says. “The bottom line is that if you have cancer now, you’ll have it later. It doesn’t go away. It’s better to find out as soon as you can for the best outcomes and treatment.”