Alegent Creighton Health treats more breast, colon and lung cancer patients than any other healthcare system in the metro. Its new Lung Health Center is designed to speed up the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer and other non-cancer lung conditions or disorders following an abnormal chest scan or suspicious lesion.
At first all Rhonda Bonstedt could do was cry.
"I thought I was going to die," she said.
Then the 53-year-old—who suffered a heart attack at age 40—geared up to fight her newly-diagnosed lung cancer. "I died at the hospital when I had my heart attack," she said. "They brought me back. I told myself, ‘If I survived a heart attack. I can beat this cancer.'"
Last February, Bonstedt was having constant bouts of coughing and severe pain in her side just below her ribs. Her Alegent Creighton Clinic family practice physician Charles McMinn, M.D., diagnosed her pneumonia but suspected something else might be wrong.
He ordered a CT scan, which showed a suspicious mass in her lung. Two days later Bryan Krajicek, M.D., a pulmonary specialist, performed biopsies using two state-of-the-art diagnostic tools.
One was an endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS), which allowed Dr. Krajicek to see regions of her lungs and surrounding chest area that traditionally have required more invasive surgery;. The second was the Super Dimension tool, which uses a GPS-like navigation to allow physicians to make early diagnoses. It too avoids the need for higher-risk procedures. "This is as advanced as lung cancer has been in decades and we are pleased to offer it to our patients," Dr. Krajicek said.
The biopsies confirmed lung cancer. It's the number one cancer killer of women.
A one-pack-a-day smoker for 38 years, Bonstedt had worried about it. Her mother, her aunt and her uncle had died from lung cancer. She knew she was high risk.
"So I just decided I was going to fight until I can't fight anymore," she said.
Just one week after her diagnosis, Bonstedt began 37 radiation treatments. She was delighted that no time was wasted between her CT scan, her biopsies and her treatment."They started right on me. They got me right in," she said.
Historically patients who had abnormal chest scans or suspicious lesions might have to wait several weeks or even months to receive follow-up care and treatment. The long lag time was due in large part to uncoordinated care. "With a system like this we can get you in within days, make the diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan faster," Dr. Krajicek said.
Under the new model at Alegent Creighton Health's Lung Health Center patients can expect a confirmed diagnosis within 48 hours and the start of treatment soon after that. "Time is critical with detecting the lung cancer early, treating the lung cancer early and decreasing the potential for spread of the lung cancer," Dr. Krajicek said.
Bonstedt also relies on her Cancer Center nurse navigator, a key contact in Alegent Creighton Health's expert multidisciplinary team. Stacey Patzlaff helps with appointments and answers lots of questions from Bonstedt and her concerned daughter, Sunnee.
"She explains absolutely everything," Sunnee Bonstedt said.
Her mother added: "Our navigator's right on top of everything. She calls regularly to see how we are doing."
Bohnstedt just started her third of four rounds of full dose chemotherapy. She's encouraged—a second CT scan showed a smaller mass than the first. "It shrunk big-time!" she beamed.
The coordinated care—which eliminated many of Bonstedt's worries—also helped her to keep working. She kept her fulltime job at PetroMart in northeast Omaha, where she makes breakfast, sandwiches and pizza starting at 3 a.m., opens the doors at 5 a.m. and leaves at noon.
She said her regular customers kept her spirits up, and so did the physicians and nurses who took care of her. "All of my care was excellent," she said. "They caught the cancer just in the nick of time. And they treated me right away. I have to think that's making a difference in how this works out."
The Lung Health Center is a program of the Alegent Creighton Health Cancer Center, a transformational leader in providing comprehensive cancer care. The Lung Health Center operates five days a week and is located at Bergan Mercy Medical Center. For more information or to see if you qualify for a lung screen call 402-717-LUNG or visit AlegentCreighton.com/LungHealthCenter.