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Lung Cancer Survivor
|Janet Burts, Okanogan, Washington|
Janet Burts lives in the small town of Okanogan with her husband and three children where she raises horses, restores historic buildings, and volunteers in her community theater.
It was during a production of Beauty & the Beast that Janet tripped back stage, hurting her knee and shoulder. An X-ray the following day revealed more than just a source of her shoulder pain. Janet found out she had a tumor in her lung as well.
Cancer is a disease that doesn’t always have early warning signs or symptoms. With lung cancer, some people may experience unexplained weight loss, fatigue, or have a persistent cough. Janet didn’t have any symptoms. So the diagnosis of lung cancer in a healthy woman of 48 came as a complete shock to her and her family.
Janet had undergone back surgery in 2007. The MRI scan taken that year revealed a highlight in her chest that unfortunately had gone unnoticed. “It was probably the tumor,” Janet says. “My concern is that in the medical professions, everybody needs to be looking at the body as a whole. Could everything have been different if they had found it back then in 2007? Fortunately, it worked out.”
“The doctor assured me that people survive lung cancer. It’s not a death sentence,” Janet says. “The nurses came in and said the same thing. And so they were giving me hope.”
Because they were given the hope that it was curable, Janet approached her children saying: “Mom’s going to be okay.” Because, she says, “they need the hope, and relatives, and my parents. They needed the hope that I was looking for, too.”
Treatment on a Clinical Trial
Janet’s husband made arrangements for her to receive care at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance under the care of Dr. Renato Martins, medical oncologist, and Dr. Doug Wood, thoracic surgeon at University of Washington Medical Center. “It was then that we made the decision that I was going to live,” Janet says, “because they were the best.”
“When you get that diagnosis, the first thing you think about is, ‘I want this out of my body. I want to start the fight.’ Once you do, your whole thought process is about fighting it, of getting it out of your body, killing the disease,” Janet says.
After a PET scan (positron emission tomography), Janet got the good news that her cancer had not spread from its 4.5 cm tumor in her lung.
Janet saw Dr. Martins and received three chemotherapy treatments (one every three weeks) right away on a clinical trial to shrink her tumor. The trial was testing a trusted chemotherapy agent along with a new agent that has become the first line of defense for some lung cancers. She says the treatment wasn’t as hard as she thought it was going to be.
After her first round of chemotherapy, Janet’s tumor shrunk by 10 percent. By the third round of chemotherapy, her tumor had shrunk 32 percent in circumference, “which meant the surgeon could get clean margins when he took it out,” she says. “It was one happy, happy day when I heard the clinical trial was working.”
Janet worked hard to make sure her children’s schedules stayed the same, and that things overall didn’t differ from the normal routine at home during the time she was undergoing treatment. Her husband was making meals, which was different, but life continued on for Janet’s family while she concentrated on treating her cancer. Her 16 year-old daughter was crowned Queen of Okanogan. Her 13 year-old daughter acted in the play Everything I Learned in Kindergarten Through Life, and her son was voted VIP in his 1st grade class.
“Even though I was having the chemo treatment, I attended my daughter’s play. I wasn’t feeling all that great, but I wanted to make sure I was there for that,” Janet says.
Janet had surgery on Feb. 5, 2009 to remove the tumor from her lung. She is considered cancer-free. She will come back to SCCA every three months for check-ups this year, and every four months next year, and every six months the year after that. She has decided to not go back to work. Janet wants to stay home and be a full-time mother. And she’s begun to write children’s books.
A woman who at one time juggled many balls in life, Janet says that having cancer allowed her look at her life and make some changes. “It gave me an opportunity to slow down and breathe.”
Thinking about her care at SCCA, Janet says she has "been treated with such caring and skilled hands. After soooo many years of feeling like just another cow going through the medical shoots of society...SCCA is TRUELY a haven of its own...as a patient I never feel like I have to second guess my treatments or procedures. I can with all trust and ease put my life in their hands."