After 40 years of cigarettes, the damage was done.
"It was Mother's Day, 1999," Al Twine recalls. "We came home from a celebration and I coughed up a little blood. Until then, I had no symptoms at all."
A chest x-ray revealed a small spot on his right lung. The subsequent diagnosis was Stage 4 lung cancer, which had spread to his lymph system. "It was as bad as it gets," Twine says.
With nothing to lose, Twine agreed to an aggressive regimen of chemotherapy and radiation, followed by surgery to remove portions of his right lung. "I wanted to get that thing out of me," Twine says. He survived the surgery, an infection and pneumonia, and is now in his fourth year as a survivor.
At 72, Twine now walks three days a week, works out in a gym, and plays golf. "I can't run a marathon or do anything real strenuous," Twine admits, "but I do most of what I want to do, and my quality of life is great."
Al Twine is a lucky man. The American Cancer Society estimates 20,430 cases of lung cancer in Virginia during 2003, and 18,882 deaths from the disease. Early detection is difficult due to the lack of symptoms. Environmental exposures, such as asbestos, radon, fumes from solvents and industrial toxins can also cause lung cancer.
As for his survival, Twine credits a positive attitude cultivated during 20 years in the Army medical corps which, ironically, contributed to his smoking.
"They put cigarettes in our field rations," Twine laughs.
He also credits his 'phone buddies' with the Alliance for Lung Cancer Advocacy Support and Education (ALCASE) with helping him cope after his diagnosis.
"They're available anytime to answer questions and listen to your concerns," Twine says. "They really had me psyched up for the surgery. I practically ran into the operating room."
Twine adds, "I was fortunate to have a terrific support group. My phone buddies, family, friends and my oncologist, Dr. Michael Lee and his staff at Virginia Oncology Associates, all helped me through this."
Survivor Al Twine, the medical oncologist who treated him, Michael Lee, MD, and two other physicians will appear at a panel discussion on lung cancer at the Sentara Cancer Institute at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.
The date is November 17th. Time is 5:30 to 6:30pm. The other doctors on the panel will be Joseph Newton, MD, a surgeon, and Jeffrey Scott, MD, a pulmonary specialist. Call 1-800-SENTARA to register.
Sentara marks Great American Smokeout November 20th
Come by the Sentara Cancer Institute at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital during business hours on November 20th and receive free educational materials on smoking and how to quit.
Sentara CarePlex Hospital in Hampton will display smoking cessation materials at the Sentara Cancer Institute.
The Cancer Resource Center at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital will post a table with smoking cessation materials during the month of November.