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      HomeLatest newsPersonal stories “Lung cancer wasn’t even on my radar. Then I was diagnosed.”
      Deborah Borst, a lung cancer survivor, standing by the beach

      “Lung cancer wasn’t even on my radar. Then I was diagnosed.”

      The disease is often detected late—which can have fatal consequences. But thanks to innovations in diagnostic tools, there’s a way to catch lung cancer earlier. Here’s how early detection saved one woman’s life.

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      Deborah Borst never worried much about her health—and for most of her life, she had no reason to.

      “I have always been incredibly healthy and hadn’t even been in the hospital except to give birth to my two children,” says Borst, 74, who lives in Michigan.

      But that all changed in February 2021 when she went to the doctor with a kidney stone. During the CT scan a radiologist happened to notice a mass on the lower left lobe of Borst’s lung. It turned out to be cancer.

      Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide, in part because it is often diagnosed once it has reached an advanced stage.

      But Borst was lucky to be diagnosed early. And six months after her diagnosis, she was cancer-free.

      Patients like Borst are an example of what Johnson & Johnson is striving toward: improving outcomes for people living with lung cancer. To do that, the company is innovating to revolutionize how lung cancer is diagnosed with technology that can help physicians catch the disease earlier, as well as solutions that could treat it with precision.

      For National Cancer Survivors Day, Borst shares her story.


       Deborah Borst, a lung cancer patient, lying on a hospital bed

      Borst is grateful that doctors were able to catch her tumor early.

      “Three years ago I went to the doctor because I had a kidney stone. My doctor said I’d probably pass it, so I went home, and the follow-up X-ray showed no sign of it.

      But later that month my daughter and I went away and I had some pretty intense pain and discomfort in the middle of the night. I attributed it to a long day of hiking.

      By the next night I was in enough pain to go to the emergency room (ER) and learned that the same kidney stone had grown and was too large to pass. They told me I would have to have a lithotripsy to treat it.

      The lungs are like a tree, with airways, branches and deep areas of foliage that older technology can’t reach. Monarch articulates and takes turns inside the lung, allowing me to biopsy multiple spots within minutes.
      Dr. Gustavo Cumbo-Nacheli
      Pulmonologist based in Michigan

      Back home, before I had the lithotripsy, a very astute radiologist looked at my CT scan and noticed the tip of my lung that happened to be included in the scan. He saw atelectasis—when part of the lung collapses.

      The radiologist recommended a CT scan with dye contrast, which my internist scheduled right away. I honestly didn’t think there was a reason to be concerned, so I was shocked when he told me about the mass in the lower left lobe of my lung. (The right lung is made up of three lobes; the left has two.) I realize now that incidental findings are not that unusual on a CT or other scans.

      My doctor got me in to see a lung specialist within a week. Once you know you have something in your body, you don’t want to waste any time. When my bronchoscopy was scheduled, I met Dr. Gustavo Cumbo-Nacheli, a pulmonologist based in Michigan. He explained that to perform the procedure he would use Johnson & Johnson MedTech’s MONARCH™ Platform. The device uses robotic-assisted technology to perform bronchoscopies in a minimally invasive way and would enable him to reach tiny portions of the tissue that made up the mass, as well as my lymph nodes.”

      Close-up shot of the Monarch™ Platform for Bronchoscopy

      The Monarch™ Platform for Bronchoscopy can access hard-to-reach areas of the lung.

      “The lungs are like a tree, with airways, branches and deep areas of foliage that older technology can’t reach,” explains Dr. Cumbo-Nacheli. “The Monarch bronchoscope articulates and takes turns inside the lung, allowing me to biopsy multiple spots within minutes.”

      “I was so thankful that the biopsy went smoothly.”

      Getting the results that would change her life

      “Afterward, one of the doctors on my multispecialty team said he had hard news and good news. The hard news was that I had cancer; the good news was that it was a carcinoid, or a slow-growing tumor. It was a relief to know that the cancer wasn’t aggressive and seemed to be contained.

      If my doctor hadn’t gotten that sliver to biopsy, they never would have known there was cancer in my lung. To me, that was an absolute miracle.
      Deborah Borst

      The pathologist discovered that the mass was about the size of an elongated grape, and at the very tip was a 3-millimeter tumorlet, which was the carcinoid. If my doctor hadn’t been able to reach that sliver to biopsy, they never would have known there was cancer in my lung. To me, that was an absolute miracle.

      I would need to have a lobectomy, a surgery that removes the affected lobe of the lung. It seemed like good news when I considered the other possibilities, such as having to go through chemotherapy. By August 2021, I was cleared to have the procedure.

      Because of my overall health, I was a good candidate for robotic surgery to remove my affected lobe. I’d never had a major surgery in my life and everything went well.

      My surgeon also took samples of my lymph nodes to test for cancerous cells (this would determine whether or not I needed additional treatment). When I got the call to say that my nodes were clear, I felt so thankful.”

      Life after cancer

      “With any cancer you’re still considered a cancer patient for at least five years. So even though my outcome was so positive, I had a follow-up CT a few months after surgery. I’ll get a scan every six months for two years and then once a year after that.

      I don’t fool myself into thinking nothing else could go wrong. I’ve had some smaller concerns since my lobectomy, including basal cell carcinoma on my nose, but overall I’ve been in good health.

      I love gardening, birding and hiking. I also serve as a health advocate and am on the boards of a retreat center and a ministry to adults experiencing homelessness as a result of mental illness.

      Deborah Borst, a lung cancer survivor, standing by the river in Loch Ness, Scotland

      I also love traveling and have been all over the world. At the end of June I’m going to visit Prince Edward Island. Traveling is just another example of how I’m seizing the day.

      Not a day goes by that I’m not thankful for the gift of life. Having cancer and going through the surgery has intensified my desire to live every day to its fullest.

      Looking back, I’m thankful for that kidney stone. It made me realize there are a lot of miracles in life.”

      More ways Johnson & Johnson is working to fight lung cancer

      See how researchers are developing preventive approaches for early detection, creating new therapies and more.

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