John Burns

John’s Positivity Helps Him Through Lung Cancer Diagnosis

Mar 11 2021

It was nagging chest pain that sent John Burns (pictured above) to his doctor, where he would later receive a life-changing diagnosis.

“My chest had started hurting on the right-hand side and it wouldn’t stop,” remembers John. “It was not hard pain, but it was a constant pain that was out of the norm and lasting longer than I thought it should have. I got worried about it.”

Following an order from his primary care doctor, John had a low-dose CT lung screening at The Jewish Hospital – Mercy Health on June 18, 2020. It showed a large mass and John was then referred Mudher Al Shathir, MD, a Mercy Health physician and pulmonary critical care specialist.

Dr. Al Shathir ordered a lung biopsy that confirmed John had stage four lung cancer. Despite this diagnosis, John remained upbeat. He credits The Jewish Hospital for saving his life and noting that his grandchildren are his motivation for living.

“It’s all about your attitude,” he says. “I don’t look at the bad side. I see what I can do to keep it moving. My wife and grandkids depend on me and I thought about what I can do to be a better me. The answer is to not live negatively. Things don’t have to be negative just because you hear you have cancer. You don’t stop living right then. You continue to live. I said to myself, ‘OK, so you have cancer. What’s next?’”

What came next were 12 sessions of radiation and a course of immunotherapy. A scan in November 2020 showed that John’s tumor was shrinking. His follow up scan in February 2021 indicated the lung mass had continued to shrink as a result of the treatment he received.

Along the course of his treatment, John has formed a close bond with nurse Marquisse Watson, a lung navigator at The Jewish Hospital.

“She told me she’d be there every step of the way and she has,” he shares. “I have a lot of support. That’s positive, too.”

Marquisse works directly with lung cancer screening patients from the time they come in for their screening through additional follow-up they may need for imaging and testing and on to oncology or surgery.

“I’m with them wherever they need to go,” says Marquisse.

It’s natural for Marquisse to form close bonds with her patients and John has made a great impression on her.

“When he came through for screening, I called to verify his information and tell him what to expect,” she says. “When a nodule was found on the scan, I got him set up with pulmonology immediately and when he came in for his biopsy, we ran into each other. He is a very sweet patient and we all could learn something from his positive attitude and outlook on life, for sure.”

John has advice for people who may be experiencing discomfort and haven’t yet made appointments to see their doctors.

“Go get it checked out quick. Don’t sit and wait. I waited too long,” he says. “If you don’t find out what’s wrong, you are setting yourself up to die. If there’s anything or anyone precious to you, prevent it and live longer. I’d go in that direction instead of cutting life shorter.”

Marquisse notes that with lung cancer, “people often don’t know they have it until it reaches a later stage. We promote screening to find lung cancers early when they are at a smaller size and more easily treated. If you smoke or used to smoke, I encourage you to take the offensive and talk to your doctor about getting a lung cancer screening. We recommend that former smokers within the past 15 years or current smokers aged 55 to 77 with a 30-year pack history come in for screening.”

To calculate your pack-year smoking history, take the number of years you have smoked and multiply that by the number of packs of cigarettes you smoke per day. For example, 1 pack per day x 30 years smoking = 30 pack-year smoking history.

As part of the lung screening program, our lung navigators can also assist with smoking cessation and ensure you receive the care and information you need.

Learn more about the lung cancer and pulmonary oncology services available at Mercy Health. 

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