Ride On After Lung Cancer

October 28, 2019

Dave Gill, of Wayne, New Jersey, was leading an active life at age 71. He was busy running his company, Gill ID Systems, which provides photo identification systems for major employers. He had three children and three grandchildren to enjoy, and he had a silver and teal Harley Davidson Dyna Glide motorcycle to ride.

To stay so active he takes good care of himself, and when a bout of bronchitis refused to go away, he had it checked out. His primary care physician ordered scans and a biopsy that led to his diagnosis: stage 3A lung cancer, which meant Dave had a medium-sized growth around the airway, lymph nodes and trachea. The news came as a shock to Dave because he hadn’t smoked for about 20 years.

His primary care physician then referred him to thoracic surgeon Nabil Rizk, M.D., at Hackensack University Medical Center. After evaluating Dave, Dr. Rizk also brought in Harry Harper, M.D., a medical and thoracic oncologist at John Theurer Cancer Center, part of Hackensack.

Coordinated Care Plan

Dave’s doctors took a team approach to create the best possible treatment plan for him, as they do for all lung cancer patients. “To that end, the surgeon and I work together closely and meet once a week to review the patient’s progress at a tumor board meeting, the model upon which we work,” Dr. Harper says.

Dave was fortunate not to need radiation therapy, and Dr. Harper presented him with two primary options: a clinical trial or standard-of-care chemotherapy.

Dave opted for the standard of care, and beginning July 7, 2017, he received weekly doses of chemotherapy for nine weeks. A scan that was done shortly after his chemo was finished showed a complete resolution of the two masses in his left lung and lobe.

“[With the chemotherapy], we are trying to shrink the tumor so that the outcome of surgery will be improved,” Dr. Harper says. “When you have a complete response pathologically [like Dave], that is associated with the best survival rate.”

Dave is one of the very fortunate ones: His cancer was eradicated by his chemotherapy treatments, but he still required surgery to remove the affected parts—in his case, the lower lobe of his left lung and nearby lymph nodes. So once the chemotherapy was completed, in November 2017, Dr. Rizk performed the surgery to remove all potential sites of residual disease. After that, Dave was transferred to a rehabilitation facility.

Promises Kept

Before his surgery, Dave told his doctors he had a goal. He had plans to drive to Venice, Florida, in January 2018 and enjoy winter at his home there. He was discharged from the rehabilitation center the day before Thanksgiving, just in time to reach his goal.

Part of his quick healing was because Dr. Rizk operated using a minimally invasive, video-assisted robotic technique. Instead of a huge cut down his chest, Dave had four half-inch incisions for the surgery and a two-inch incision for removing the lobe. “Our average patient with this type of surgery is in the hospital for about two days; the national average is four or five days,” Dr. Rizk says. “We’re able to release them with no restrictions of activity at discharge, and they are normally off all pain medications within a few weeks of surgery.”

Dr. Rizk continues to see Dave. “I see my patients every six months for two years, and after that I see them annually,” he says. After five years without recurrence, they’re considered cured.

Dave kept the promise he’d made to himself. He left January 5 and was able to enjoy the tropical weather of Florida. Very quickly, he was back to his active lifestyle and remains healthy today. “All I can tell you is everyone at Hackensack was fantastic!” he says.

Learn how we leverage the latest medical research findings and an interdisciplinary team approach to treat lung cancer.

Dr. Rizk practices in Hackensack. To make an appointment, call 551-996-5960. Dr. Harper practices in Hackensack. To make an appointment, call 551-996-5087.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.