Extending Life: Stretching Two Months Into Five Years
Carol Thorington always took good care of herself. She stayed active and went to the doctor every three months. So when she started coughing and feeling sick, she made sure to bring it up to her doctors. When she started coughing up blood, X-rays were ordered.
“They told me I had stage 4 lung cancer—the most serious classification of cancer-- with hundreds of tumors in both lungs,” said Carol. “They gave me two, at most six months to live.”
That was June 2005. Carol’s cancer was so advanced that doctors told her that it was inoperable and that chemotherapy might not help her much.
Determined to achieve even a temporary reprieve from the death sentence she’d been handed, Carol started chemotherapy. However, as her doctors had predicted, it did little good and weakened her even further.
At this point, breathing was becoming more and more difficult, and the hospital staff told her husband that they couldn’t do anything more for Carol. They asked him what they could do to ease the stress of losing his wife.
Still, Carol wasn’t ready to give up. She accepted that her cancer was incurable, but as an active wife, mother, and grandmother, she had many more things she wanted to do in her life. That is when Ganesh Krishna, M.D., an interventional pulmonologist, asked to see her.
Dr. Krishna is among a few doctors in the United States who are experts in the inReach electromagnetic navigation bronchoscopy system. PAMF’s Interventional Pulmonology services are the most comprehensive on the West Coast. The procedures Dr. Krishna performs are noninvasive—involve no cutting—so Carol’s weakened state didn’t preclude her getting surgery.
“Dr. Krishna thought he could do something to take the pressure off my lungs,” said Carol.
Dr. Krishna used a tool called an endoscope to reach Carol’s lungs through her mouth and throat. He couldn’t reach all of her tumors, but those he could get to he destroyed by freezing the tissue with super cold liquid nitrogen—a process called cryogenic freezing.
With fewer tumors in her lungs, Carol felt stronger, and her oncologist thought she might be well enough to receive more chemotherapy. During this process, Carol’s oncologist discovered that her cancer had moved completely out of her left lung. The resulting chemotherapy killed more of the cancer, and she was able to return to a more normal way of life, working and seeing family and friends.
For the past five years, Carol’s routine has been to see Dr. Krishna regularly for removal of the lung tumors that he can reach without having to perform surgery and the insertion of stents in the lungs to ease her breathing. After the procedures, her strength returns and she becomes healthy enough for chemotherapy.
In between treatments, Carol exercises daily, spends time with her family and stays active in local cancer fundraisers.
“I never stop exercising. The more I do, the healthier I am. I refuse to back down to cancer,” said Carol.
The effect on her and her family’s life has been so dramatic that Carol is anxious to educate other cancer sufferers about these procedures. “I tell people there are doctors who don’t give up. No one knows about these treatments,” said Carol. “I had a friend diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer who was dead within three months.”
The interventional pulmonary procedures Dr. Krishna performed for Carol have not only lengthened her life by five years, they have made those years much more comfortable.
“Dr. Krishna gave me back five years. I got to see my last two grandkids graduate from high school. I got to see my oldest grandchild graduate from fire academy,” said Carol. “Now I want to live to see a great-grandchild born. Hey, if you’re not going to keep pushing, why bother?”
“Dr. Krishna gave me back five years. I got to see my last two grandkids graduate from high school. I got to see my oldest grandchild graduate from fire academy.” —Carol Thorington
Healthwise Articles: Lungs & Breathing