Monica Rinehart – Lung Cancer Success Story
Cancer dismissed – catching lung cancer early saved Monica Rinehart’s life
|Methodist Richardson caught Monica
Rinehart’s lung cancer while it was at
stage II, Thanks to quick action,
including surgery and chemotherapy,
she’s been cancer-free for three years.
July 3, 1988. That’s a date that Monica Rinehart will never forget.
“My husband and I quit smoking cold turkey,” she says.
So 22 years later, it was no surprise that Rinehart was both angry and confused when she learned that she had lung cancer.
“I had given up this habit, and now it felt like it hadn’t paid off,” the Garland high school teacher says.
But there are two things she keeps in mind.
One, smoking was most likely not the cause of her lung cancer.
“For most patients, about 15 years after quitting smoking, their risk of lung cancer is almost back to normal, as if they’d never started smoking,” says Alan Trumbly, DO, medical oncologist at Methodist Richardson Cancer Center. He touts quitting smoking as the No. 1 way to prevent lung cancer — or any cancer, for that matter.
Two, Rinehart is one of the lucky ones, because her cancer was caught early.
No longer ‘the walking dead’
Rinehart’s story starts at the beginning of the 2010–11 school year, when a persistent cough began interrupting her teaching. She chalked it up to allergies, until one coughing fit had her convinced that she had broken a rib.
“My primary care doctor did an X-ray, and that’s when they found the tumor,” says Rinehart, who learned the news right before the holidays. “I didn’t want to ruin Christmas, but at the same time, I was thinking, ‘I’m the walking dead.’?”
A biopsy confirmed that the tumor in her right lung was cancerous. It was removed with a lobectomy, and Dr. Trumbly prescribed a short course of chemotherapy to make sure no cancer remained.
“It was really that easy: I had surgery, I had chemo, and I got on with my life,” Rinehart says.
New hope for people at risk for lung cancer
In January, Rinehart celebrated her three-year cancer-free anniversary — an anniversary she might not have had if her cancer hadn’t been caught at stage II. Stage III would have cut her chances in half. Stage IV would have given her no chance.
Dr. Trumbly says Rinehart’s story is the perfect illustration of why Methodist Richardson Medical Center began offering discounted low-dose CT lung screenings for patients at high risk for lung cancer last fall.
“This screening has a 20 percent rate for preventing death — that’s higher than some mammogram studies for breast cancer, and it’s a similar dose of radiation,” Dr. Trumbly says.
While the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, American Cancer Society, and many other organizations have endorsed the lifesaving screening, most insurance companies have not started covering it. To make it easier for patients to catch cancer early, Methodist Richardson offers the exam, reading, and report for only $249.
“People would be crazy not to get this test,” Rinehart says. “Cancer doesn’t just hit you; it hits everyone who knows you. Why waste your family? Why waste your whole life if you could take cancer head-on?”
From the spring 2014 edition of Shine magazine.