Taking two big steps to beat lung cancer: Get a scan and quit smoking.

From high risk lung screening to highly motivated cancer patient

Image Johnmiltier Hr Highrisk Lung Cancer Screening Image Johnmiltier Hr Highrisk Lung Cancer Screening Image Johnmiltier Hr Highrisk Lung Cancer Screening

John Miltier, 72, knew it was time to take charge of his health.

“I want to live a few more years,” he jokes, “and my daughter’s been on me to quit.”

With good reason: John’s wife, Dorothy, died in 2010 from mesothelioma, a lung cancer tied to asbestos exposure. John is a retired sheet metal mechanic and general foreman from Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Asbestos fibers clinging to his clothes infiltrated Dot’s lungs over the years when she shook out the laundry, eventually causing cancer. John could just imagine his own cancer risk, between pack-a-day smoking and decades of direct exposure to asbestos. 

A newspaper advertisement about the Sentara High Risk Lung Screening initiative caught John’s attention. The ad encouraged long-time smokers 55 years old or older to see if they meet criteria to receive a low-dose CT scan.

John met the criteria, which includes a 30-year history of a pack-a-day smoking and workplace exposures to certain carcinogens. He had a low-dose CT scan and received a letter informing him that he had a nodule in one of his lungs.

“They’re usually benign,” he says, “but they wanted me to follow up with my doctor and get a second scan after six months.” 

He’s had that second scan and plans to stay on top of his health in the future, armed with new knowledge of his baseline health.

“It was well worth the money,” John says.

John quit smoking on December 17, 2012. To help him quit, John chewed nicotine gum for about two months and took an anti-depressant which reduces cravings, irritability, anxiety and other symptoms.

“The gum is expensive,” John says, “but it’s no different than buying a carton of cigarettes every week.”

John’s been tobacco-free for more than nine months. He sleeps better, he says, and breathes better, without the “growling” he used to hear in his lungs. He’s cutting back on the antidepressant as well.  

However, there are still temptations. John joined a shag club and goes dancing with newfound friends. While most of them don’t smoke, John struggles sometimes. 

“One of the hardest times is socializing,” he says. “But if I’m tempted (to smoke,) I tell myself, ‘Just don’t do it.’”

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