Early detection allowed for a cure

By Dusty Donaldson

Yvette Garity enjoys her life to the fullest! And why shouldn’t she? She worked hard all her life and has been enjoying the benefits of retirement for the past two years. Yvette recently returned from a week-long cruise in the Bahamas to celebrate her 70th birthday with her son Riley Calhoun, 38, and daughter Regina Anne Acton, 40.

Yvette celebrated her birthday by taking a cruise with family.
Yvette celebrated her birthday by taking a cruise with family.

Lung cancer screening saved Yvette’s life.

“It’s my goal to save others,” she says.

In 2003, after a 42-year habit, Yvette decided to quit smoking. She was told she could get free annual lung scans as part of the National Lung Screening Trial.

“Since I was quitting, I thought I would do that.”

It would be a good way to track the improvement in her lungs after quitting, she thought. But as the appointment drew near, she wavered. Her second thoughts were not based on fear or denial. She was busy and simply did not want to take time off work to go to Johns Hopkins to get screened. And, frankly, she was not concerned about lung cancer, especially because she had quit smoking.

“I had no reason to suspect lung cancer. I had no symptoms. No one in my family had lung cancer.”

She is forever grateful that her husband Joe convinced her to go ahead and do it.

Almost immediately, she realized she was in grave danger.

“The day after my CT, Johns Hopkins called and said I needed to contact my primary care physician. I saw him the next day. I was shocked. It was life-saving. I would not have otherwise known.”

The doctor estimated that the cancer had been growing in her body for 18 months. It was stage one. She was referred to a thoracic surgeon who removed her lower left lobe in August 2003. She didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation.

Recuperation from the surgery was tough, though. She took off about six weeks during recovery. She returned to work on a part-time basis until she was fully recovered.

“I was blessed to have all the cancer removed.”

As of February 2015, Yvette has been cancer free for more than 11 years.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of early detection.”

Because her lung cancer was detected early, Yvette was able to work an additional nine years after her diagnosis.

“It is cost-effective. Those were productive years. I worked and paid taxes for those nine years. I was able to retire—on my terms, not out of medical necessity—but when I was ready!”

Since her diagnosis, Yvette has enjoyed many celebrations. Her son got married and bought a home. Her daughter also bought a home. She loves spending time with her grandson, Andrew Acton, 14. She attended his graduation. Her nephew got married. Yvette and her sister who lives in Rhode Island get together a couple of times a year. The sisters also cruise together with other friends every year.

“It’s great to be able to afford that and to be here and able to do it. I would not have been able to do it if I had not been screened. I’d like to see some other lives saved. That’s my goal.”

Yet, Yvette has been here to enjoy life with her friends and family. And when life is not a celebration, well, she’s thankful she’s here to offer support to others.

“I lost my brother a year after my diagnosis.”

Her father took her brother’s death very hard.

“No parent, no matter how old, should bury their child. I was able to help my dad through that.”

Yvette believes if she had not been screened, her lung cancer would not have been discovered until it had spread. She’s probably right. At least, statistics support her belief. Most people diagnosed with lung cancer die within a year of their diagnosis, because by the time symptoms develop, the cancer is usually advanced.

“Most lung cancers caught early are usually by accident. By the time you have symptoms, it’s usually advanced.”

Yvette’s experience made her a lung cancer advocate.

“I like to give back.”

She attends smoking cessation classes to encourage people who are trying to quit. She volunteers at the hospital where she had surgery. She recently visited Capitol Hill with a group of advocates led by Lung Cancer Alliance to speak with senators and congressmen about lung cancer screening and the need for research funding.

About Screening

The National Lung Screening Trial compared lung cancer screening by low-dose CT scans to chest X-ray. The people being screened by low-dose CT had a 20 percent reduction in the mortality rate. Insurance now covers lung cancer screening for people considered at high risk for lung cancer. That includes current and former smokers over the age of 55 with at least a 30 pack-year smoking history. Pack years are calculated by multiplying the number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day by the number of years the person smoked. For example, someone who smoked two packs a day for 15 years would have a 30 pack-year smoking history. For more information about lung cancer screening, visit