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Lung Cancer Survivor Says “Quit Smoking Before It’s Too Late”

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Lung Cancer Survivor Says “Quit Smoking Before It’s Too Late”

In late 2023, after nearly three months of chronic chest pain, 67-year-old Diamond Bar resident Jerry Wan Mak finally visited his primary care physician at the Pomona Valley Health Center – Crossroads, in Chino Hills. Jerry completed a lung cancer-screening questionnaire at his annual wellness appointment and based on his responses, his care team, including Margaret Galileo, physician assistant, and Jennifer Vara, medical assistant, referred him for a low dose CT screening, which revealed a tumor.

What Jerry initially thought might be a heart-related issue was instead diagnosed as stage 1 lung cancer. Jerry had been a smoker for 50 years.

“I was shocked,” says Jerry. “My family and I thought I had a heart problem and it turned out to be lung cancer.”

Jerry was then referred to Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center (PVHMC) pulmonologist and internist Derrick Raptis, MD, who performed a bronchoscopy with the Ion, an advanced minimally-invasive robotic diagnostic biopsy technology that is able to reach the smallest branches of the lung with high precision. The procedure discovered a squamous cell carcinoma in one of Jerry’s lungs.

As a result of his diagnosis, Jerry was then referred to PVHMC cardiothoracic surgeon Guangqiang Gao, MD, who removed the cancerous tissue from Jerry’s lung during thoracic surgery. Jerry’s cancer was detected in its earliest stages, which meant they would be able to remove it with surgery and he didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation.

"Dr. Gao is a skilled physician and a genuinely kind person,” said Jerry. “He checked on me daily during my stay in the hospital, making sure I was comfortable and had all I needed.”

According to the American Lung Association, nationally, only 26.6% of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at an early stage, correlating with a significantly higher five-year survival rate of 63%. Unfortunately, 44% of lung cancer cases are not detected until a late stage, resulting in a survival rate of just 8%.

For three decades, Jerry was a-pack-a-day smoker, but since his diagnosis and surgery, he’s quit smoking and picked up healthy habits. His chest pain is now just a memory and is slowly getting back to walking, swimming and spending time with his family.

Jerry was fortunate to catch his cancer at an early stage. His early diagnosis was a direct result of him scheduling his annual doctor’s appointment, as well as the timely and efficient plan of care he was assisted with by Michael R. Laturner, NP, lung cancer nurse practitioner navigator at PVHMC. As a hospital with a unique lung cancer nurse navigator program, PVHMC is able to expedite diagnosis and guide the patient through their treatment and recovery plan.

Jerry says he has a crucial piece of advice for fellow smokers.

"Not everyone is lucky to find out they have early-stage lung cancer,” says Jerry. “Quit smoking and talk to your doctor if you notice any symptoms; don't wait. Your life depends on it."

The Robert & Beverly Lewis Family Cancer Care Center at PVHMC offers patients the latest lung cancer treatment. If you are a smoker or have smoked in the past, please click here to learn more about lung cancer screening eligibility.