Aggressive Therapy, Positive Approach Cure Lung Cancer Patient
Admitting it sounds strange, Tony Palumbo says he looked forward to his chemotherapy and radiation treatments at the University of Chicago Medicine. "I always felt a sense of security when I came to the hospital," Palumbo said. "Everybody was beautiful, just beautiful. We did a group hug with our doctors, nurses and other caregivers all along."
In 2006, Palumbo, an insurance agent from Orland Park, went to a local emergency room because he was coughing up blood. The doctors there diagnosed Palumbo with non-small cell lung cancer and gave him very little hope.
"They told me it wasn’t operable and that I didn’t have much time," Palumbo said. "They took my wife and son aside and suggested they look into hospice care for me."
The Palumbo family decided to get a second opinion from the University of Chicago Medicine. A thoracic surgeon, Mark Ferguson, MD, agreed that surgery was not an option (Palumbo’s tumor was located in a bronchial tube and surgery to reach it would be life threatening). But Ferguson didn’t stop there. He recommended Palumbo see another member of the lung cancer care team, thoracic oncologist Ravi Salgia, MD, PhD, telling the family that Salgia was doing "interesting and unique treatments for lung cancer."
"In the old days lung disease that couldn’t be treated with surgery was considered incurable," said Salgia. "We eliminate that kind of thinking; we take the aggressive and optimistic approach."
The thoracic oncology program at the University of Chicago Medicine offers hope -- and innovative therapies -- to many people with early and late stage lung cancer. Patients benefit from individualized care, state-of-the-art treatments, clinical trials and a multidisciplinary approach. Medical oncologists, surgeons, pathologists, pulmonologists and radiation oncologists work together to plan the best possible strategy for each patient.
Within days of meeting with Salgia, Palumbo began treatment. Radiation was given with intermittent chemotherapy for the first six weeks, followed by almost three months of chemotherapy. The nurses on the lung cancer team supported Palumbo throughout his sometimes difficult procedures.
"Our infusion and radiation nurses focus solely on lung cancer," Salgia said. "This 'super-specialization' gives them a more in-depth, detailed understanding of the disease and on how to manage our patients’ therapy and symptoms."
Although the tumor was fairly large and had affected a considerable number of lymph nodes, radiation and chemotherapy successfully eradicated the cancer. Six years later, Palumbo is still cancer-free. While considered cured, he returns to the medical center annually to have his lungs checked for signs of recurring disease. In addition to a CT scan, Palumbo has an advanced bronchoscopy procedure that screens for precancerous cells or lesions. And at each visit, everyone still hugs.
Salgia says the lung cancer team has learned much from Palumbo and other patients who have survived potentially "incurable" lung cancer. "Our patients continually contribute to our progress in treatment approaches," Salgia said. "And we continue to think outside the box."