Beverly James reflects on the unexpected symptom of lung cancer that led to her early diagnosis and saved her life.
It began with stomach pain. Looking back now, 69-year-old Beverly James also recalls losing weight in the weeks leading up to her collapse.
“I’d noticed my clothes were fitting bigger on me, but, at the time, attributed it to my workout regimen,” said Beverly.
Recently retired after decades of service to the New York Department of Education, Beverly spent five days a week at a senior’s exercise club doing aerobics, Pilates, and yoga.
When she wasn’t in exercise classes, Beverly walked for an hour each day. She was, by all reasonable estimation, in excellent shape as she neared her 70th birthday.
Which made it all the more shocking when crushing stomach pain brought her to her knees one Sunday morning in church.
After her fall, parishioners called an ambulance that swept Beverly to the emergency department at Englewood Health. Soon thereafter, a PET scan detected something abnormal in her lungs.
“I was in shock,” said Beverly. “I’d never smoked. I wasn’t a drinker. I exercised seven days a week. Lung cancer was the furthest thing from my mind.”
When Beverly thought about the possibility of having cancer in the past, she most often imagined breast cancer—a disease her mother, grandmother, and sister all had in their lifetimes.
“That’s why I always got my annual mammogram,” said Beverly. “But I had never imagined I could have lung cancer, which is why I never thought to get screened for it.”
Beverly was given a stage 1 lung cancer diagnosis and referred to Christos Stavropoulos, MD, director of thoracic oncology at The Lefcourt Family Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center and chief of thoracic surgery at Englewood Health.
“While many of us associate symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath, and chest pain with lung cancer, there are lesser-known symptoms as well, such as stomach pain,” said Dr. Stavropoulos. “Some patients with lung cancer will experience elevated calcium levels that cause digestive issues like stomach pain, constipation, or nausea.”
According to Dr. Stavropoulos, these lesser-known symptoms illustrate why it’s important to pay attention to your body and see your doctor any time something feels off.
“I liked and felt comfortable with Dr. Stavropoulos right away. He’s a nice man and a great doctor,” said Beverly. “Thankfully I didn’t need chemotherapy, but I did need surgery to remove the cancer from my lungs.”
Though Beverly was scared to undergo surgery, the mother-of-three knew it was necessary to save her life.
Of the experience of recovery, Beverly said, “I’m building back my strength and getting better every day.”
Today—four weeks after her surgery—Beverly has returned to her daily walks and feels confident she’ll be doing Pilates and yoga at the senior’s club in no time.
“When I look back now, I’m thankful I got sick that day in church, because it led me to Englewood Health and is the reason I was diagnosed so early on, when the cancer was most treatable.”
Beverly said if there’s any advice she can offer to others based on her own experience, it’s to listen to your body, get medical attention when you need it, and get screened for a wide array of cancers—not just the ones that run in your family.
To learn more about lung cancer screenings, visit: englewoodhealth.org/lung-cancer.
Posted November 22, 2022