Early cancer diagnosis allows Farmer City woman to keep serving others

At age 69, Margaret Stephens lives alone and is very independent. She doesn't have relatives nearby, but she spends her time serving others.

"I've taken care of five children over the years, and I also sit with older people during the day to keep them company and help them live in their own home," she said.

Stephens is a busy person, and thanks to an early cancer diagnosis, she plans to stay busy.

"I was a smoker a long time," Stephens said. "My physician [Christine Henrichs, MD] suggested I get checked for lung cancer."

So, Stephens had a low-dose CT scan (LDCT) in January 2016.

Juan Jimenez, MD (pictured), radiologist at Carle, says LDCT is a great screening tool. "The scan uses low doses of radiation. It is safer for the patient, gives us a clear image of the lungs and allows us to find cancer earlier," he said.

Doctors confirmed a small spot of lung cancer after Stephens' scan.

"Before LDCT, we found most lung cancers after the tumor had grown quite large and possibly spread. At that point the disease is very aggressive and hard to treat. If we can catch lung cancer early enough, we can increase the survival rate or even cure the patient," Dr. Jimenez added.

Stephens found it hard to quit smoking over the years, but she quit the day she learned she had cancer. "I eat gummy bears and sunflower seeds now instead of smoking. It's hard but I need to be healthy," she said.

Garry Weide, DO, performed surgery on Stephens earlier this year. "I removed the upper part of her right lung. The cancer did not spread to the lymph nodes. Overall, Ms. Stephens has a good prognosis," he said.

Stephens doesn't need chemotherapy or radiation. "I get tested every six months to make sure the cancer hasn't come back," she said.

"All the doctors have been magnificent and they are very pleased with my progress."

Dr. Jimenez says if people are a high-risk for lung cancer, they should talk to their doctor about getting a LDCT. High risk patients are:

  • Between age 55 – 77
  • Currently a smoker or quit smoking in the last 15 years
  • Smoke an average of one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years

"The exam takes only a few minutes, involves no needles and helps save lives," Dr. Jimenez said.

People don’t have to be Carle patients to get the screening.

For Margaret Stephens, it was her physician’s instinct that led her to the right testing and treatment. With an encouraging prognosis, she can look forward to helping people around Farmer City for many more years.

She lives to help others.