Patient Story

Bruce's story: Lung screenings saved his life

A routine X-ray following Bruce Simmers’ hip surgery in 2013 revealed first signs of COPD.

He remembers being short of breath but didn’t think anything of it. Afterall, he had quit smoking 7 years before.

His primary care physician referred him to Dr. Matthew Haack, a pulmonologist with Cherokee Lung & Sleep Specialists, a Northside network provider. Together, they worked to manage and monitor the disease. At first it was mild, only requiring an inhaler and drug therapies to help Bruce keep up with his normal routine at work and home including pastimes, like hiking and golfing.

But in 2014 a second X-ray to check for COPD progression revealed a tumor in his lung and a broken rib. Initially, Bruce suspected lung cancer, but was shocked to learn it was not.

A biopsy revealed the tumor and broken rib were related to multiple myeloma – a kind of blood cancer. In fact, about one out of every three people with myeloma learn they have the disease when a bone breaks, and in Bruce’s case, what looked like lung cancer on X-ray, was a plasma tumor oozing from his broken rib bone.

Just as he was digesting the news of his recent diagnosis and weighing what to do next, Bruce received a call from his daughter. She was pregnant with his first grandchild.

After that call, I knew what I had to do. I needed to survive to meet my granddaughter,” said Bruce.

He started with chemotherapy and radiation to get the myeloma under control, working with Dr. L.Crain Garrot at Georgia Cancer Specialists, affiliated with Northside Hospital Cancer Institute, in Canton. Next, he was referred to the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at Northside Hospital, where Dr. Scott Solomon performed a stem cell transplant.

Several bouts of pneumonia exacerbated his COPD during cancer treatment, but five years after the X-ray found his tumor, Bruce is in complete remission.

His next challenge: managing his COPD so he can keep up with his (now three) grandchildren. Bruce continues to work with his team at Northside Hospital to preserve and maximize his lung function. He’s added physical therapy and portable oxygen to his treatment but makes sure he stays “on the move”, as he puts it.

Bruce would advise others considering lung screening to go.

Anyone who worked in construction like me, particularly around chemicals and dust, should get checked out as well as anyone who smokes or has formerly smoked,” he says. And adds that anyone struggling with COPD management should consider physical therapy. “It has been a gamechanger for me.”

*The health story shared here may portray atypical results of survival for this type of cancer, given its severity and stage. Atypical results are considered surviving a cancer that has less than a 50 percent five-year survival rate. Patients should consult an expert to discuss specific treatment plans and the possible outcomes before making medical decisions.

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