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In 2003, at the age of 61, Don Cully made a life-changing decision. He decided to quit smoking, a habit he had since he was a kid. "I smoked a pack and a half a day," he admitted. "I should have had no lungs left." Because he had been coughing a lot, Don asked his doctor for a CAT Scan. He was curious to see what his lungs looked like. Fortunately, the scan revealed emphysema and dead lung cells - but no cancer.
"I knew I had to quit smoking. And it was just in time."
Don went to a specialist who offered, "If you don't quit, pretty soon, you will be tied to an oxygen tank." Being an outdoorsman, Don truly valued his independence and did not want to be housebound. "I knew what I needed to do," shared Don. "I just quit. Cold turkey - no pills, no patches. I'll admit it wasn't the easiest thing to do, but I knew I had to quit smoking. And it was just in time."
Although Don began to feel better, in 2008 he underwent open heart surgery at a large Philadelphia university hospital. During a follow up visit in the fall of 2009, a CT Scan detected a small spot on Don's right lung. The doctor there suggested a biopsy, which confirmed he had lung cancer.
"I figured I'd stay at the same hospital where I had heart surgery, so I went to see a thoracic surgeon there," noted Don. "He wanted to perform surgery using a major incision to reach the tumor - from the back of my spine to the front of my rib cage. I just couldn't do it. Not after heart surgery. Although it was cancer, it was small."
Fearful of another major incision in his chest, Don got a second opinion at Fox Chase, where experts perform less invasive thoracic surgery.
Banking on the fact that there might be other, less invasive ways to reach his tumor, Don decided to get a second opinion. He recalled seeing Fox Chase Cancer Center commercials on television, so he called for an appointment. "I called and talked to a wonderful young woman. She was very patient with me and arranged for me to see Dr. Walter Scott, head of thoracic surgery."
After evaluating Don and reviewing his medical records, Dr. Scott felt that Don was a good candidate for a minimally invasive procedure using Video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery (VATS). "I was so tickled," said Don, after learning he was a candidate for VATS (although Dr. Scott required to get clearance on his heart condition before undergoing another surgical procedure).
In March 2010, Dr. Scott performed the VATS procedure to remove the tumor on Don's lung. Because it had not metastasized (or spread), additional treatment was not recommended. Don felt so good after surgery, he almost drove himself home. When asked about the pain, he said, "I've never been better in my life. I had no pain. Dr. Scott is so good at what he does. He put me on a morphine drip so I could self medicate. The day after surgery, I asked to remove the drip because I didn't need it. I was up walking around using this thoracic walker. It really helped speed up my recovery."
"Donna, along with all of the nurses at Fox Chase, are spectacular."
One of the highlights at Fox Chase was Donna Edmondson, Dr. Scott's nurse practitioner who works closely with each of his patients. "Donna is a doll," shared Don. "We kid around and joke with each other. Donna, along with all of the nurses at Fox Chase, are spectacular. They could not have been any better. The whole operation at Fox Chase - from start to finish - is professional, caring, considerate and very well managed. I was very impressed and would recommend Fox Chase to anyone who has cancer."
"The bottom line is that if I went elsewhere, I would have had a big, invasive surgery with a lengthy recovery."
"Dr. Scott is such a wonderful guy. The bottom line is that if I went elsewhere, I would have had a big, invasive surgery with a lengthy recovery period." Today, Don is enjoying his retirement in the mountains, splitting wood and relaxing with a clean bill of health.