A Routine Check-up Changes One Man's Life

"It was just a cough"

It was October of 2013 and 56-year-old, Mark Curtis had a nagging cough that wouldn’t go away. So he made an appointment with his primary care physician for a check-up to find out what was going on.

Mark didn’t think anything of it. It was just a cough, after all, but that appointment would change his life.

A chest x-ray reveled a mass on his lung. A biopsy confirmed his worst fears. It was stage three lung cancer.

Sitting in the room, face-to-face with his doctor. The image still plays in Mark’s mind. 

“When he said cancer, I can still remember it to this day,” said Mark. “It was a shock. It’s just something that you – it’s hard to put in words – it’s something that you never want to hear. You never believe it’s going to happen to you.”

“It never occurred to me that it could be cancer. I wasn’t hurting inside. It was only the cough. I didn’t have any pain or anything so I had no idea.”

What happened next? What was your initial treatment plan?

It was decided I should have surgery to remove the tumor from my lung. But when the surgeon opened me up, he discovered the tumor was too large and too close to my bronchial tube to remove.

When I awoke from surgery, I got the grim news. That was when I thought, is it too late for me now? That is when you really start asking the questions. So the decision was made to try to shrink the tumor and try surgery again.  

How did you find The Jones Clinic?

My physician referred me to Dr. Jones. 

He said there is this doctor with an exceptional record and he just explained how much knowledge this man possessed about treating cancer. He was a teacher and a student of cancer – teaching it all over the world at places like MD Anderson and Johns Hopkins.

Tell me about that first visit.

You’re nervous when you go in. You don’t know what to expect. What’s going to be the outcome? What’s the doctor going to tell you? Are you gong to live? Are you going to die? A lot of things go though your mind.

But Dr. Jones calmed all of that. He was easy to talk to. The staff, especially the nurse, Amy, was sensational. His team is well versed – not just in my cancer – they are experts in all cancer treatment. They were very professional and very friendly. It was like they had known you for years. You go in there and you find out, hey, people do care about you.

Tell me about your treatment.

I underwent chemotherapy and radiation for several months. It wasn’t easy. The radiation took its toll on my body. Food tasted horrible and wasn’t easy to keep down. I went from a healthy 185 pounds to below 150 pounds. I really don’t know how low it went. I told them I didn’t want to know my weight anymore when it dropped below 150. 

I was always impressed by the time that Dr. Jones and the staff took to visit with me and talk me through anything.

When you went in – I don’t care if it was blood work or chemo – to see the doctor, any step along the way; they took time to talk to you. They just didn’t put you in a room and say the doctor will be with you. They would talk to you 10-20 minutes sometimes – as long as I needed.

What was the outcome of the chemo and radiation?

It was hard but it worked. The tumor shrunk 67 percent and the decision was made to go ahead with surgery – but they decided to remove the entire right lung. 

It’s a big deal. You live 57 years with two lungs and all of the sudden someone says we have to remove one. There is also an 11 percent chance you won’t make it out of surgery alive. All of this weighs on your mind. 

Dr. Jones, what I love about the man – I asked him straight to his face, if I don’t have this surgery, are my chances of survival good? And he looked straight at me and he didn’t hesitate. He said no. So I told him that we better get on with it!

And the surgery was a success?

Yes.

There were definitely a lot of smiles and high-fives and hugs. Dr. Jones came in and you could just see it in his face. You could tell that he was very pleased to have that report back. He said there’s no sign of cancer whatsoever.

Talk about a burden off your shoulders, because… you don’t know. You hope that the surgery gets it all, but to hear that you’re cancer free, it’s just a weight lifted off of your shoulders. I couldn’t wait to tell somebody - family, whoever!

How has the adjustment been – living with one lung?

It’s a lot of adjustment. Your body just adjusts to the fact that one lung is now supporting you.

It took a while for the left lung to say, ‘hey, I’m on my own here and I have to support this guy.’ Walking around was tough at first and breathing was a problem. I had a lot of shortness of breath and I was afraid I would have to go through it daily for the rest of my life but eventually the lung strengthened and started supporting me. My oxygen count is in the 90s just like a normal person. I can walk distances. I can walk up stairs. Of course I can’t run marathons, but I sure wasn’t doing that before, either! I’m basically living a normal life now.

How would you sum up your experience?

You know, the team at The Jones Clinic really just took a lot of the pressure off of me and just eased my mind. I learned through it all you just have to stay positive the whole way through. Just wish and pray and hope for the best.

There’s always hope. It doesn’t have to be the end for you.

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