GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – Pam Black has lived a life most doctors would recommend to their patients – she doesn’t smoke, works out a lot and eats healthy. That’s why it was surprising when she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in October 2014.
Black began noticing something was wrong when her brain and her hands stopped working together. She would later find out it was because the cancer had spread from her lungs to her brain, back and hips.
“I was unable to write my name,” she said. “My brain was not talking to my hand.”
Black was given six weeks to live by doctors, but that was before meeting two East Carolina University doctors at Vidant Medical Center who she credits for saving her life.
Black’s lungs were biopsied using a new technology. Vidant Medical Center was the first hospital in the world to use a new device that made it easier to get to tumor sites in the lungs.
“We can turn it, and twist it, and that is just like a GPS system, we just follow that line all the way there,” said Dr. Mark Bowling, an ECU Pulmonologist.
Dr. Bowling said they use a mapped out version of the patient’s lungs to work small needles through and then biopsy the tumor sites. This more effective biopsy technique allows doctors to get a better sense of what they’re working with, and come up with a quick treatment plan.
This device, along with low-dose CT scans, is discovering lung cancers in Eastern North Carolina at a shocking rate. The national average is one lung cancer for every 320 CT scans. At Vidant, that average is one lung cancer every 26 scans.
Because of the aggressive nature of lung cancer, quick and effective treatment is essential. At Vidant, doctors work as a team to diagnosis and treat cancers quickly.
Dr. Paul Walker, an oncologist at ECU and Vidant, uses Dr. Bowling’s biopsies to determine the best treatment method. He now utilizes a new approach called immunotherapy to treat cancer.
“Chemotherapy directly kills the cancer. Radiation directly kills the cancer. The immune therapy is the persons’ own body that’s killing the cancer,” Dr. Walker said.
Black received these new techniques during her cancer treatment.
More than two years after being given six weeks to live, Black is now cancer free. The before and after images of her brain show the tumors have disappeared with proper treatment.
She credits the doctor’s fast work, along with tremendous support from her friends and family, for getting her to where she is now.
She hopes her story inspires others to never give up, and to keep fighting no matter how bad the odds are.