Lung cancer survivor’s story shows how Ohio can improve treatment

Lung cancer survivor’s story shows how Ohio can improve treatment

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Ohio has not been doing very well at helping patients with lung cancer.

According to the newly-released State of Lung Cancer report from the American Lung Association, the state ranks 39 out of 51 in the “new cases” rate, and 28 out of 45 in survival.

Sandy Harb’s unusual survivor story could provide insight on how the situation could be improved.

“I’ve never smoked a day in my life,” the 45-year-old said. “Never abused drugs a day in my life.”

In June 2018, Harb explains she started to feel sick and dizzy. When she first visited urgent care she was only given antibiotics, but after months of visits, it was discovered that she had a tumor.

“I just held myself. I said ‘what do you mean? I’m too young for this, how did I get it? What did I deserve to get this?’" she said.

Since the tumor was relatively benign, Harb only needed surgery, but it cost her 60 percent of her lungs. After the surgery in December and several months of physical therapy, she is finally feeling better.

According to the report’s information on Ohio, the state ranks within the “average” tier for high-risk screenings. But the time it took for Harb to get treated speaks to a gap in medical service for different lung cancer patients.

Harb waited six months between June and December, before she finally had her tumor removed from her lungs. Alessandra Crish, a development manager for the American Lung Association, says Harb wasn’t screened earlier because she did not have high-risk symptoms.

“The people who are getting screened are because they have a high risk assessment,” she said. “[Harb] didn’t get pre-screened because she had other care issues such as being a smoker or anything like that."

Crish also says people don’t tend to think of individuals like Harb as lung cancer patients. They often tend to be older and have a long history of smoking.

“In reality, those that are diagnosed with lung cancer aren’t always a smoker. Lung cancer is the number one cancer-killer, in both men and women,” she said.

Harb hopes her story can raise awareness for different kinds of people who are affected by the disease, and encourage others to be mindful of their own health.

“It doesn’t matter. You have lungs, you can get cancer,” she said.

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