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Lung Cancer: Sara Bennett's Story

By EmpowHER April 22, 2011 - 1:22pm
Sponsored By Mayo Clinic

Early detection combined with advanced technology helps Scottsdale mom stave off two bouts of lung cancer.

Sara Bennett is optimistic despite two recent battles with lung cancer.

"I'm very fortunate," said the retired homemaker, who raised five children with her husband, Buck. Her optimism has been bolstered by successful treatments she has received at Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

Her story illustrates the benefits of periodic monitoring and early detection of cancer. And her treatment also points out the growing arsenal of cancer-fighting alternatives, such as stereotactic radiation.

A full life
When Sara celebrated her 80th birthday in February, she could look back on a fulfilling life. A native of West Virginia, she met her husband, H.B. "Buck" Bennett, when they were students at West Virginia University in Morgantown, W.Va. They married and moved to Iowa where he worked in the explosives business, until retirement in 1996 to Arizona. Also a sportsman, Buck was playing tennis three times a week right before his death from an aortic aneurism in 2008.

Sara had been a patient at Mayo Clinic previously, when she was treated for a benign cyst on her thyroid. Mayo doctors began to monitor Sara's lungs in 2002, when a scan revealed what was initially suspected to be valley fever.

She had smoked cigarettes in her youth but had quit while still young, so it was a surprise to her when, after periodic scans, she received a lung cancer diagnosis in 2005.

"I had no symptoms whatsoever, no shortness of breath, no pain, no anything," she said.

That's not unusual, and it's generally a good sign. If caught early, lung cancer frequently doesn't present any symptoms, said Dr. Steven E. Schild, chair of the radiation oncology department at Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

When patients have symptoms, it generally means the cancer is much less curable, he said. Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer worldwide, estimated to have caused 159,000 deaths in the United States alone in 2009. Of the 219,000 patients diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009, 116,000 were men, and 103,000 were women.

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