Lung Cancer Survivor Feels Connected to Hoag

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After Mary’s final visit with Daryl Pearlstein, M.D., she asked, “Am I not going to see you again?”

The sentiment struck them both as a little funny. People don’t typically want to see their thoracic surgeon, but Mary had been impressed by Dr. Pearlstein’s thoroughness, compassion and patience. He had guided her through her lung cancer journey, and she felt grateful for all he had done.

“Working with Dr. Pearlstein was a wonderful experience. I was so encouraged by the way he would explain everything. He answered all of my questions,” she said. “He cared about me like one would a family member.”

Persistent back pain drove Mary to visit her primary care physician for a physical therapy referral. But when her doctor ordered an CT scan, they discovered a small nodule on her lung. The finding was incidental and very fortunate. The tumor had been discovered early enough to be treatable through a minimally invasive surgery.

A breast cancer survivor of eight years, Mary knew to expect excellent care from Hoag. But when she first received her lung cancer diagnosis, the experienced world traveler wondered if she would have to leave the county for specialized care.

“My first thought was, ‘Am I going to be able to stay here, or do I have to go out of town to get this taken care of?’” Mary said. Researching Hoag’s website, Mary came across Dr. Pearlstein’s information.

“I was impressed with his expertise with robotic surgery,” she said. “I thought, ‘This is good. I can stay right here and be treated at Hoag.’”

Mary’s internist Patrick Pan, M.D. and breast cancer oncologist., Louis VanderMolen, M.D., confirmed what Mary had read about Dr. Pearlstein. They consulted with Mary and with Dr. Pearlstein throughout Mary’s treatment.

“All of my doctors are connected with Hoag, so I knew the process would be organized, integrated and seamless,” Mary said. “I knew it was caught early, and I felt confident that everything would be OK. My biggest fear was that the surgery would affect my exercise tolerance and energy level.”

In particular, Mary was concerned that surgery would keep her grounded from a planned trip to Europe in the fall. As it turned out, travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic kept her home. Had her trip not been canceled, Mary said she would have had the stamina to keep up with her travel group.

Lung cancer clinical nurse navigator Lilian Reed, R.N.C., provided Mary with an exercise regimen that would help her recovery, as well as thorough education around her surgery. In turn, Mary felt very prepared for both her surgery day and recovery journey. Four months after surgery, Mary is walking at nearly the same pace she kept prior to her diagnosis.

“I feel those exercises not only help my breathing, but they’ve helped my posture, too. I will be doing those exercises for life,” she said. “I am no longer seeking physical therapy.”

Due to COVID-19 concerns, no one could visit Mary during her three-day hospital stay. But Mary said the nursing staff and doctors kept her spirits up.

“I just focused on having a positive outcome and getting home,” she said. “I was so encouraged by everyone, by the care I received. It is one of the reasons to live in this area. The climate is beautiful, we’re close to the airport, and we’re close to Hoag.”

“I could not think more highly of my all star team at Hoag – my surgeon, Dr. Pearlstein, my nurse navigator, Lilian, my oncologist, Dr. VanderMolen, my nursing supervisor Kelli Browne, my cardiologist, Kim Swanson, M.D., my internist Patrick Pan, M.D., and my pulmonologist Dennis Novak, M.D.” Mary said. “The last time I saw Dr. Pearlstein I said, ‘Am I not going to see you again?’

“He laughed and said, ‘You can come back any time, but it would not be because you’d need to.’”