It was a typical work meeting on a regular day that brought Carol Tierney to a life-changing moment. A moment she believes she was led to in order to save her brother's life.
Carol is the Director of the Center of Excellence in Nursing Administration at The Christ Hospital Health Network. As part of her job, she gets to meet with nurses across the Network to learn about the innovative ways they provide care. In February 2019, she sat down for a meeting with Missy Bryson to learn about her role as lung nurse navigator at The Christ Hospital.
During this meeting, Missy spoke about the new lung screening program she was working on and how it was saving lives by catching lung cancer early, before symptoms appear. Through a 20-second, noninvasive low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan, qualified candidates could learn their risk for lung cancer and be referred for further testing if cancer was probable.
"When Missy started talking about the lung screening program, wheels were turning in my head," Carol says.
Her family has a history with cigarettes and cancer – particularly lung cancer.
"Everyone in my family smoked cigarettes except for me," she explains. "My mom had breast cancer, but ultimately died 13 years later from lung cancer that spread throughout her body. My dad had unrecognized colon cancer that spread to his liver. My sister died from lung cancer that spread to her brain."
The screening program had her thinking about her two brothers. They seemed to be perfect candidates for it, and she quickly realized it could keep them from meeting the same fate as their mother, father and sister.
"That was not going to happen to another family member," says Carol. "I told Missy I was sending my brothers to the screening site, and I texted them as soon as our meeting ended."
20 seconds showed no time to spare
Carol's brothers were scheduled to complete their LDCT scans within a week. Her twin brother's results came back negative, but her older brother Steve didn't get good news.
"Something showed up on his scan," Carol says. "He emailed me the results as soon as he received them in MyChart. I was devastated that it wasn't normal."
Steve was sent to Eric Weinstein, MD, pulmonologist, for further testing.
"Missy, in her role as lung nurse navigator, got him an appointment with Dr. Weinstein within two days," Carol recalls. "Dr. Weinstein then ordered a bronchoscopy for the following week, and by the end of that week, we learned the cells were cancerous."
It was stage 3 lung cancer. Her family was shocked but hopeful. The cancer was treatable, but there was just enough time.
Quick treatment thanks to Missy's navigation
Through Missy's work, Steve was able to get quick appointments with Brian Mannion, MD, medical oncologist, and Robert Summe, MD, radiation oncologist. He began chemotherapy and radiation therapy, promptly followed by immunotherapy.
"Right before Christmas last year, he had another PET scan, and per Dr. Mannion, he is in remission," Carol says. "If nothing comes back in the next five years, he'll be considered cured! How cool is that?!"
It was a great Christmas present for the family – a Christmas miracle.
Carol says she knows she was destined to meet Missy.
"I worked at The Christ Hospital many years ago and came back in 2018," she explains. "Now I know why I came back. It was to meet Missy, learn about her program and have my brothers go through it."
Now Carol's determined to spread the news about the screening program.
"A few minutes may give you many more years to live. Look into completing the screening. Encourage everyone you know who is or was a smoker to look into it. It's just as important as a colonoscopy or mammogram," says Carol.
If you're a current or former heavy smoker and between the ages of 55 and 77, you may qualify for The Christ Hospital's lung screening program. Learn more about the program and criteria and how to schedule an appointment.