With every breath
Bob Arnold, of Columbia, Mo., said finding out he had lung cancer was nothing short of a miracle.
"It was about March 2007, and I had hurt my shoulder," Bob said. "So I went to Dr. Hal Williamson, my primary care physician. Off and on during the past several months I kept hearing this little voice inside telling me to get a chest X-ray.
But that day, in Dr. Williamson's office, I heard that voice so loudly and insistently that I just had to ask."
Harold Williamson Jr., MD, a family and community medicine physician and vice chancellor of the University of Missouri Health System, reviewed Bob's medical history. He knew Bob had smoked for more than 40 years before quitting. Sure enough, the test Williamson ordered revealed a spot on Bob Arnold's right lung.
"The lesion in the lung was quite small," Williamson said. "So, I think it is fair to say Bob had some instinct about it."
"I feel like it was divine intervention," Bob said.
He was quickly placed under the care of a multidisciplinary team at Ellis Fischel Cancer Center. His team included various specialized physicians, nurses, social workers and others who work together to prescribe the best treatment plan for every lung cancer patient, from diagnosis through treatment.
"We always coordinate as a team, and we meet face-to-face every other week to discuss each and every one of our patients," said Christine Chang, APRN, a nurse practitioner.
The team included Normand Caron, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon; Rajiv Dhand, MD, an internal medicine physician and director of the Division of Pulmonary Critical Care and Environmental Medicine; Vamsi Guntur, MD, a pulmonary, critical care and environmental medicine physician; Michael Perry, MD, a hematologist and oncologist and Nellie B. Smith Chair of Oncology; and Steven Westgate, MD, a radiation oncologist.
Just weeks after that first X-ray, Bob underwent several procedures to diagnose and then remove the spot. First he had a bronchoscopy, but the doctors could not get close enough to the spot to confirm their suspicions that it was cancerous. So Bob then underwent diagnostic surgery. During the procedure, Caron first took out a pie-shaped piece of Bob's lung. Caron tested the spot while Bob was still under anesthesia. The spot tested positive for cancer, so Caron removed the upper lobe of Bob's lung, removing every bit of cancerous tissue.
Bob's lung cancer was caught very early. Because it had not spread to any of the surrounding lymph nodes, he did not need chemotherapy or radiation. Two years later, he remains in remission.
"I consider myself very blessed," Bob said.
Dhand said that Bob's outcome, while rare, is what the team hopes for in every case.
"Successes just like his are always our goal," Dhand said. "We want to catch and treat lung cancer in its earliest stages. When we can take the cancer out with surgery alone, the surgery itself is the cure. Up to 80 percent of lung cancer could be cured if we could diagnosis it in the early stage and remove it before it spreads."
Throughout his diagnosis and treatment, Bob remained hopeful and maintained a fairly normal daily routine of caring for his land and lawn tractors.
"The cancer diagnosis and the surgery, it honestly didn't bother me," Bob said. "I don't dwell on it and don't think about it. But when I do, of course, it's not for me, it's for my family. I think it's my Christian beliefs that help me."
It was a bit more difficult for his wife, Jennifer.
"Bob is one of the strongest men I've ever known," she said. "When this happened to him, I felt like the rug just got pulled out from under my feet."
As part of their overall treatment plan, the Arnolds joined Ellis Fischel's lung cancer support group led by Chang and Debbie Filer, MSW, a social worker for Ellis Fischel's patient and family support services.
Bob and Jennifer meet with this small group of lung cancer patients and their families each month. They listen to presentations by health care professionals and talk about topics ranging from their emotions to preparing healthy meals.
"We are all ages, and we have all different personalities," Bob said. "But we all have this one thing, lung cancer, in common. So we're like a small family. We're all looking for a way to help each other and our families. And we want to make sure we help others avoid this if we can."
Recently, the couple celebrated their anniversary. Because it fell on a meeting day, they took their celebration to their support group rather than miss a meeting.
"Bob brought his big barrel cooker and made barbecue for everyone," Jennifer said. "We had our celebration with the group. It was a ton of fun to have everyone there with us."
Now retired, Bob spends most of his time working at home, caring for their five acres. He also continues to collect and restore John Deere lawn tractors, tries to walk at least 25 minutes every day and keeps active in his church.
At the end of each day, Bob said, he has a lot to be thankful for.
To learn more about our lung cancer support group, call (573) 882-2587.