Colleen Medvin had been going for lung cancer screenings for years. As a smoker, it was part of her annual physical, recommended by her primary care physician, and given that smoking was her “only vice,” she dutifully followed her doctor’s advice.
For years, there was nothing remarkable on the scans of her lungs. During one scan, a small spot appeared on her lung. “They thought it could be from having bronchitis,” says Colleen, a secretary for an assistant principal in the Ken-Ton school district. In early 2021, her doctor noticed the spot had grown a little and recommended she go to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center for another look.
“When they did the next scan, they noticed it was growing again,” she says. In consultation with her primary care doctor, and under the care of thoracic surgeon Mark Hennon, MD, FACS, they decided it was better to remove the small tumor.
“They were scheduling the surgery and before I could get that done, they sent me for a PET scan,” she recalls. “That’s when they found out I had breast cancer too.”
The difference one day can make
Her care team grew to include Kazuaki Takabe, MD, PhD, FACS, Clinical Chief of Breast Surgery.
Luckily, both cancers were in early stages – she was diagnosed with a non-aggressive stage 1 early breast cancer, with a tumor measuring about half an inch and no spread to her lymph nodes and stage 1a lung cancer, a “very early stage with an excellent prognosis,” Dr. Hennon says – and her team was able to coordinate schedules to allow both surgeries to happen on the same day.
“It was very scary,” Colleen admits now. “For the longest time, I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone about my cancer because I would just burst into tears. I met with both surgeons and they were really wonderful. Dr. Hennon was just so awesome, a really kind, down-to-earth guy. Dr. Takabe, he told me exactly what was going to happen and exactly what he said is what happened.”
She had her surgeries in July 2021, taking only a little time off work, and was able to go home the next day. “I was out walking three days later,” she says. While she continues to take medication to help prevent the breast cancer from recurring, otherwise she has no long-term reminders of her dual cancers.
“Everything’s been great,” Colleen says. “There have been no complications. I thought I was going to feel a lot worse. After a while, I called Roswell Park and asked if I could go back to work early because I felt fine.”
Lung cancer screening at Roswell Park
Our Lung Cancer Screening Program is designed to detect lung cancer early — when it is most curable — by screening and monitoring those most likely to develop the disease.Learn More
Advocating for access
While she had been adamant about getting her annual cancer screenings in the past, her double diagnosis has strengthened her advocacy, especially for low-dose CT scans that can find lung cancer in earlier stages, giving patients a better chance for positive outcomes.
“I think everyone should go,” Colleen says. “I don’t think you should have to wait for approval from insurance. It should be like a mammogram or a Pap smear. Especially since lung cancer is usually diagnosed so late.”
In September, Colleen joined a group from Roswell Park to speak before a congressional hearing on the importance of making low-dose CT scans for lung cancer more accessible and easier for people to obtain. She gladly accepted the invitation, in part because she knows most lung cancer patients are diagnosed at much later stages and might not have the ability to speak as a survivor.
“I believe it’s very important,” she continues. “It’s not just even if you have a history of smoking that you need the scan. It depends on the environment and what kind of work you do.”
Colleen wanted to take advantage of the invitation because she understands the opportunity she has now because of her early diagnosis. “I feel so extremely lucky. I finally felt like I could talk about it. If I can talk to just one person about it, if one person goes and gets the scan, I can help them. The harder they make it for people to get screened for lung cancer, people won’t follow through because they’re too busy.”
Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.