Dave Mock will never forget his first visit to board-certified pulmonologist
and critical care physician Stephen A. Chitty IV, MD, 14 years ago. Looking
around the waiting room, he thought, “Everyone else here is on oxygen.
I’m only 39 years old, but if I keep smoking, this is my future.”
That’s the year he quit smoking, but he continued seeing Dr. Chitty
at Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-Pulmonary Medicine. “I
had suffered two bouts of pneumonia within a year which caused some lung
damage, so after that initial appointment I followed up with him regularly.”
Between visits, Dave, who works in the Health System’s Information
Systems department, occasionally saw Dr. Chitty in the hospital hallways.
They often teased each other about which of their favorite sports teams
would win the big game. The two have a friendly rivalry, with Dr. Chitty
cheering on the Georgia Bulldogs and Dave a devout Florida Gators fan.
Wife and Advocate
Having quit smoking, Dave continued taking good care of his health and
never experienced any symptoms of lung cancer. Everything seemed fantastic,
however, his wife Holly wanted to be sure. As a Southeast Georgia Physician
Associates practice manager, she witnesses people being diagnosed with
cancer every day. The only way to know if smoking had impacted her husband’s
health was through a low-dose computed tomography (CT) lung screening.
Quick and accurate, CT scans can detect lung cancer before symptoms appear.
Symptoms can include persistent cough, hoarseness, chest pain, shortness
of breath, headaches, bone pain, unexplained weight loss and coughing up blood.
When Holly saw that the recommended age for low-dose CT scans dropped at
the beginning of 2022 from 55 to 50, she urged Dave to get screened. “Holly
stayed on top of it. She was my advocate,” Dave says. The couple
worked with Dr. Chitty’s office to get Dave scheduled a low-dose CT scan.
Five Minutes that Changed Everything
The Health System is recognized by the American College of Radiology as
a designated lung cancer screening center. Specially trained technicians
perform the scans, and the images are read by a board-certified radiologist.
Fortunately, Dave listened to his wife. That five-minute scan in July 2022
saved his life when it revealed a lung nodule. “It wasn’t
clearly a tumor or not a tumor, so Dave, Holly and I had long conversations
discussing his options,” recalls Dr. Chitty. His options were watchful
waiting with periodic CT scans; a lung biopsy; bloodwork to determine
if his cancer risk was high or low; or surgery to remove the nodule.
Because the Health System did not have the advanced Ion biopsy system at
the time of Dave’s screening results, Dr. Chitty was not confident
he could obtain an informative biopsy result. The Ion’s innovative
technology accesses the smallest, hardest-to-reach lung nodules; the Health
System now offers this service.
After Dr. Chitty ordered bloodwork, the Mocks waited on the results. As
the days stretched on, they decided they did not want to live with a “wait
and watch” scenario. “With every screening, you have to be
ready to act. We had to make good decisions. Dave’s mass was precancerous;
but given time, it would have turned into cancer,” says Holly.
Once the decision was made to have surgery, Dr. Chitty coordinated Dave’s
health care team. “We have a huge team of medical professionals
and surgeons we trust. Dave was a good candidate for surgery. He was young
and health conscious. Doctors love patients like that; they can do so
much more for their health.”
Dave’s surgery in early September went well. His strength is returning,
he is able to drive and can work from home. Although his beloved Gators
didn’t win against the Bulldogs this year, his future looks bright.
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, but Dr. Chitty believes the disease
deserves attention all year long. “Lung cancers caught early are
curable. Lung cancers caught later are almost always fatal. Low-dose CT
scans should be the standard of care for people who have smoked within
the last 15 years, and current smokers 50 and older. Primary care physicians
should order this as an annual health screening, similar to mammograms.”
Although scans are recommended starting at age 50, Dr. Chitty urges current
and previous smokers to get scanned regardless of age. Holly agrees. “Be
your own advocate, or if you know someone who needs this scan, encourage
them to look into it. Lung cancer can happen to anybody.” Her husband
adds, “Don’t wait!”
If you’re worried about what you might learn, Dr. Chitty says, “People
are surprised to learn that early-stage lung cancer has a good cure rate.
Treatments have revolutionized within the last few years.”
For their part, the Mocks feel relieved and grateful, and are ready to
bring on a new year. “We can’t thank Dr. Chitty enough! And
are thankful we now have this behind us and can focus on a healthier 2023.”
Talk with your doctor to learn more about lung cancer screenings or visit
sghs.org/lung-cancer-screening for more information. To find a health
care provider, call 855-ASK-SGHS (855-275-7447).