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A smoker's tale: 'She saved her sister's life, that's the best gift you can give anyone'

How one woman's advice to her sister could help save the life of you or someone you know.

Posted: May. 21, 2018 7:27 AM

ROCHESTER, Minn. – Thousand of current and former smokers who should be screened for lung cancer aren’t getting checked. That’s according to a new study from the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Susan Franken, of Rochester, was among that group, until someone close to her made a life-saving suggestion. The 62-year old has been a smoker for 47 years and never thought to get a lung cancer screening until last fall when she got a phone call from her sister.

“I was out having a cigarette when she asked me,” says Susan. “I remember exactly where I was.”

Susan’s sister encouraged her to get a screening and in February, she went in for a CT scan at Mayo Clinic. The results: stage 1A lung cancer, which luckily is very treatable.

“Typically, we can remove it with surgery,” explains Shanda H. Blackmon, MD, MPH, Professor of Surgery at Mayo Clinic. Because it was caught so early Dr. Blackmon was able to remove Susan’s caner. But catching lung cancer at this stage is not easy because many patients, like Susan, don’t show any symptoms until it’s too late.

“One of the best things you can do for someone is send them for a lung cancer screening,” Dr. Blackmon says. “I have a mother that smoked, my grandfather died from lung cancer and I really emphasize how important it is to get screened.”

“It gives you some perspective on; people do care about you,” explains Susan who says she and her sister are closer than ever before. She will forever be grateful for the truly priceless gift she was given: a chance to continue to be a Grandma for a few more years.

Just over a month after her surgery, Susan graduated from Rochester Community & Technical College with a Liberal Arts & Sciences Associates Degree she had been working on getting for a number of years. In the audience to watch her get her diploma: her sister.

So, how do you know if you or someone you know should get annual lung cancer screenings? According to Mayo Clinic, people 55 years and older who smoke(d) heavily for many years should talk with their doctor about their lung cancer risk and if a low-dose CT scan is right for them.

As for Susan, she plans on “paying it forward” by sharing her story and a future donation to Savedbythescan.org.

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