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Real Estate Agent Learns There Is Life After Lung Cancer

Summer 2004 – With a history of heart problems on both sides of her family, Jeanette Fellhauer was more than willing to have the heart scan suggested by her family physician. She was less receptive, however, when the woman scheduling her appointment kept recommending that Fellhauer get a lung scan as well.

“To tell the truth, I was getting a bit irritated by how insistent she was,” says Fellhauer, who was 52 at the time. “Finally I said, ‘All right, just sign me up for both.’ ”

Today, Fellhauer says that woman is one of several people who saved her life. The results of her heart scan were normal, but the lung scan revealed she had a nodule on her right lung. The nodule was so small it hadn’t appeared on a chest X-ray taken several months before the lung scan. Fellhauer was devastated by the news.

 “I didn’t think anyone could live after being diagnosed with lung cancer, and that’s what I heard from the first specialist I saw,” she says. “He said if the nodule was cancerous, I could pretty much hang it up.”

Fellhauer’s husband, Jim, refused to settle for that prognosis. Another referral from their family physician brought the Fellhauers a second lifesaver, Richard J. Battafarano, MD, PhD, a Washington University thoracic surgeon at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center.

“Dr. Battafarano’s attitude was totally different. He was positive and upbeat and said, ‘We can take care of this,’ ” Fellhauer says.

“Jeanette had an adenocarcinoma, a common non-small cell lung cancer,” Battafarano says. “Although we had to remove the lower half of her lung, fortunately the cancer hadn’t spread to her lymph nodes. That meant Jeanette didn’t need to undergo radiation and chemotherapy.”

He adds that Fellhauer is one of the lucky people diagnosed with lung cancer early. “The symptoms of lung cancer take a long time to appear. Once they do, the disease usually is in an advanced stage,” he explains. “Early diagnosis of lung cancer often happens when tests are done for other medical problems or during routine physical exams.”

Even with her good prognosis, Fellhauer was concerned that the cancer would come back. “Dr. Battafarano told me to stop worrying about the cancer returning and just live my life. He said he was there to take care of me,” she says. “It was just the most loving, compassionate thing anyone could have said.”

Fellhauer took Battafarano’s advice to heart and made a conscious decision to focus on the good that resulted from her experience with cancer. “After struggling to quit smoking for years, I stopped completely the day I was diagnosed,” she explains. “But beyond that, I try to enjoy every day of my life. I don’t let myself get stressed at work because it’s easy for me to think that no matter what the problem is, it still isn’t lung cancer. Some people view birthdays as negatives. To me, they are pluses. I’m glad to get older every year.”

Fellhauer also takes more time to be with her other lifesavers — her husband, family and friends. “For example, before my diagnosis, I may not have traveled as often to Virginia to visit my first grandchild and my son and daughter-in-law,” she says. “Now I make sure to take time for them and everyone in my family.”

Today, Fellhauer continues to work full time as a real estate agent. Her lung capacity is close to what it was before her surgery, allowing her to show properties and work out at the gym.