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Published on August 15, 2013

Danielle Nigh & Lung Cancer


Danielle Nigh
Patient: Danielle Nigh, Hagerstown, MD

Location: Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center

Service: Lung Cancer

Doctors: Joseph Haggerty, MD; Carl Shoenberger, MD

Danielle Nigh never smoked a day in her life. Yet, she was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer at the age of 37.

Danielle Nigh has beaten cancer three times over the last 10 years. “You need to have the right cancer care team behind you,” she says. “If you do, it makes all the difference in the world.”

“When you hear ‘stage IV lung cancer,’ it’s like the worst thing you can hear,” recalls the Hagerstown resident, now 46. “I was shocked. I was a nonsmoker. I was healthy, never really sick. But it can happen.”

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I was coughing one weekend and this guy Ron who works at the hospital still there - I call him every November to thank him because I'm still alive and he made me have a chest x-ray. He said "Danielle, I think something is wrong with you." I said "No, I'm just working too much. Nothing is wrong with me." And I had a chest x-ray and had pneumonia in my right lower lobe, but I had this mass in my left upper lobe, and I thought it's nothing, it's scar tissue because I had been in a bad car accident in 1995 and this is where my seat belt was. So I didn't let it bother me, and I kind of talked everyone else into that thinking. It's probably just seat belt damage, so we just followed it. I went to see Dr. Shoenberger and we followed this area every 3-6 months, and in 2004 it grew a little bit.

We initially were not very concerned with something like lung cancer due to her age and the fact that she was a non-smoker, but anytime you see one of these abnormalities it does have to be followed to make sure nothing serious is going on. She had several follow up CT scans, and initially there was very little change in this abnormality but then things began to look a little bit more ominous and she developed some additional symptoms.

I was with my doctor in Dr. Haggerty's office, with my family and friends of mine, and he said to me you have stage 4 lung cancer. I was shocked. Who, me? 37, a non-smoker. Healthy. Never sick. Never called out sick. But it happens.

When we sit down with something like this, it's changed a life. You've gone from a young woman, radiology technician, doing her job, and she continues to, but it's a tremendous journey that these people have to go through.

At first I just had the lung thing, and Dr. Haggerty came into the room and he said I needed to have a brain MRI, we have to see if there's cancer anywhere else. So then I had it and I had a tumor in my brain.

When we look at patients with any kind of cancer, we look at what tools we have to treat them. And generally there is a surgical tool, which is a local tool where the scalpel goes and it cuts, and the radiation tool, which is a local tool, and then there's a systemic tool, which is the tool that in my world we deal with, which is the oral or IV chemotherapy.

In one month I had two major surgeries. I had my upper left lung removed and a crainiotomy because I had a mass on the right side of my brain. And then in 2006 I was told I had cancer in my spine and I had that radiated. When I had chemo my friend Doris would drive me. She lived in NewMarket she would come to Hagerstown, she would pick me up and she would drive me to Dr. Haggerty's for my chemo and she'd stay with me the whole time. I had it once a week for five weeks. We had to stop it one time because I was just too sick. And my experience at that oncology office is wonderful. Those nurses couldn't be any better. I couldn't have received better care at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital.

When everyone leaves my office I like to look them in the eye and send them out with a message. In her case it's stage 4 disease but she's Any D: no evidence of disease. That's an oncologic term that has meaning to the patient. You have no measurable evidence of disease. I don't see it with my fingers, I don't hear you talk about it, I don't see it in any scan, and I don't see it in the blood work. You have no evidence of disease. Go home. Relax, and I'll see you next time.

I'm so happy to be here. The only thing that I don't think is positive that came out of here - this is because of brain radiation - is that I lost my hair in the center. It's a reverse mohawk. It doesn't grow from here to here, but this stuff grows, and I chose not to wear a wig. I bought a wig. I had my hair stylist style it, and I went home and my nieces were young then, and I went home and I had it on and they were at the house. I walked in and they looked at me and said "Aunt Danielle we don't like that." And that was it. Never wore it again - it's sitting on the sponge head still!

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