For most of her life, Pamela Smallwood of Newnan, 56, said she knew her chances were high for developing lung cancer.
Her mom died from the disease at age 55; her dad passed away from lung cancer when he 50 years old.
But when Smallwood got ill in early 2017, cancer was the last thing on her mind.
“I had a lot of pain and pressure that started out slowly. It progressed to sharp pains in the left side of my chest,” Smallwood said. “At first I was on zithromax or ‘z packs.’ But then I went to the doctor and had an X-ray. They found a big tumor in my upper left lung.”
After further testing and a biopsy, an oncologist diagnosed Smallwood with stage 3B adenocarcinoma non-small cell lung cancer in March 2017.
“I freaked out. My life flashed before my eyes,” Smallwood remembered. “You go into denial first. Then I thought of my husband, children and grandbaby and I said to myself, ‘I’m going to fight this and stay positive.’”
Smallwood’s cancer was related to genetics.
But according to Dr. Minish Patel, there are other factors that increase a person’s risk for lung cancer. Smoking cigarettes and secondhand cigarette smoke exposure tops that list.
“It increases a person’s risk 20-fold, compared to nonsmokers,” Patel said. “Other risk factors include radiation exposure, alcohol, family history and environmental toxin exposure, such as asbestos, radon and metals.”
Patel specializes in hematology and medical oncology at Piedmont Newnan hospital.
He also treated Smallwood, she said.
“I knew I had to be strong and put my life in the Lord’s hands. But Dr. Patel did so much for me. He basically saved my life,” Smallwood said.
According to Patel, approximately 235,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with lung cancer each year.
Close to 155,000 people die annually from the disease, making it the leading cancer-related death, Patel said.
Men are more afflicted with lung cancer than women, he added.
Lung cancer is most commonly seen in people age 65 or older, unless a person carries a genetic mutation for the disease, like Smallwood.
Smallwood said she was determined not to become a statistic like her mother and father.
She endured four rounds of chemotherapy before surgeons removed the cancerous tumor and the top lobe of her left lung, she said.
Once healed from the operation, she said she underwent 25 rounds of radiation.
“No one wants to hear they have cancer, but you have to get through it. It was all worth it. I don’t regret one minute of it,” she said. “I made the Lord and my family my No. 1 priority. My second priority was my doctor.
“I did a lot of exercising. That helped me,” Smallwood added. “I also kept my mindset that I was going to fight this.”
A year and a half after her lung cancer diagnosis, Smallwood now is considered to be in remission.
“So far everything looks good, so I’m happy,” she said. “Every day is a special day.”