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You don’t have to be a smoker to get lung cancer

In October 2012, 33-year-old Samantha Mixon had been experiencing migraines for nearly a month straight. She went to several hospitals near her hometown of St. Simons Island, Ga., all of which attributed her pain to sinusitis, an inflammation of the sinuses, and migraines. Even after treatment for these conditions, the pain persisted.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, Mixon visited family members who lived near Piedmont Henry Hospital. When the headaches persisted, she went to Piedmont Henry’s emergency department. Her doctors found a gray area in a brain scan, so they transferred her to Piedmont Atlanta’s Brain Tumor Center.

“When they told me I had a brain tumor, it was very scary,” she says. “I have a cousin and aunt who both passed away from that.” She remembers the process went very quickly when she arrived at Piedmont Atlanta and went into surgery. “Afterward, Dr. Howard Chandler came in and said, ‘Good news – we removed the tumor.’”  

After the surgery, she underwent Gamma Knife Radiosurgery, a single-session, noninvasive targeted radiation treatment, to make sure all of the brain cancer cells were gone. Gamma Knife uses powerful doses of radiation to target and treat diseased brain tissue while leaving surrounding tissue intact. While he was able to remove the brain tumor, Dr. Chandler told her it had likely spread from another part of her body. Additional testing confirmed that she had stage IV non-small cell lung cancer called adenocarcinoma.

The fight for her life

“I felt kind of hopeless in the hospital,” says Mixon. “When you look it up, it tells you there is a 2 percent five-year survival rate.” After she was diagnosed, Mixon had to tell her 8-year-old daughter Karley the news. “I told her, ‘Mommy is going to do the best she can to beat this, but I can’t promise you that I will,’” she says. “I think that was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to tell her.”

Her prognosis

While her disease is not curable, Mixon is making progress. “All of my nodules are gone except for two and the primary tumor is reduced by 65 percent,” she says.

To manage the disease, she takes a once-daily pill. Ironically, Mixon says the brain tumor probably saved her life. “If I hadn’t found the brain tumor, I probably would have died from the lung cancer,” she says.

Mixon travels to Atlanta from St. Simons Island every six weeks for scans. “I continue to use Piedmont because I trust them,” she says. “All the questions I had, like, ‘What if it comes back?’ Dr. Chandler said, ‘We’ll take care of it.’ I had complete confidence because I trust Dr. Chandler so much.”  

For more information, visit the Piedmont Brain Tumor Center.

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