Peggy Schooling is the definition of healthy living. The 62-year-old college professor has always eaten a mostly plant-based diet, has never smoked, and is an exercise enthusiast.
She is also a lung cancer survivor.
An Unusual Path to Lung Cancer Diagnosis
In 2017, following a routine mammogram, Peggy was diagnosed with stage 0 ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) breast cancer. Pre-surgical testing, that included a chest X-ray and breast MRI, revealed a mass on Peggy’s lung. A biopsy confirmed stage 1B lung cancer, which meant her tumor measured 3-4 centimeters.
“I was completely shocked,” says Peggy. “I had no symptoms, I never smoked or spent time around smokers, and there is no history of lung cancer in my family.”
Although smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer, about 10 to 15 percent of lung cancers occur in people who never smoked, according to Dr. Jennifer Worth, the thoracic surgeon who would operate on Peggy. Radon, secondhand smoke, and other environmental exposures are also risk factors.
As is the case with many lung cancer diagnoses, a cause for Peggy’s cancer was never determined, although she feels environmental factors are likely.
Supported Through the Cancer Journey
Peggy forged ahead, her characteristic indomitable spirit firmly in place, as she faced two separate, unrelated cancers—breast and lung—at the same time.
Two nurse navigators at the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute were at her side, guiding Peggy through the complexities of her diagnoses: breast cancer nurse navigator Julie Justice and lung cancer navigator Amy Jo Pixley.
Peggy was also grateful for the financial counseling, chaplaincy, and holistic services at the Image Recovery Center.
“The Cancer Institute was amazing,” says Peggy. “All of the communication was very integrated which is just what patients need.”
Lung Cancer Surgery
Peggy’s lung cancer surgery was scheduled between two breast cancer surgeries.
At Lancaster General Hospital, on September 6, 2017, Dr. Jennifer Worth removed the lower left lobe of Peggy’s lung, which contained a 3.1 cm. tumor.
Peggy was home within four days, beginning her recovery.
The Mailbox Goal
She immediately began yoga and all the post-operative exercises she was instructed to do to increase her lung capacity.
An avid runner and bicyclist throughout much of her life, Peggy set her first distance goal, which she felt was a stretch: walking to the mailbox. Rather than stopping at the mailbox; however, Peggy went on to walk 1.5 miles. Within a week, she was up to 5 miles.
At Peggy’s insistence, her husband drove her to the leadership class she was teaching at Immaculata University in Chester County.
“I just wanted to show my students that no matter how hard things seem, they can do it,” says Peggy.
She continued her disciplined approach to recovery and within six weeks was biking 30 miles.
Life Beyond Cancer
Two years out, Peggy is feeling great, in remission from both breast and lung cancer, and delaying retirement to embark on a new professional opportunity. She is as active as ever, grateful to her supportive family, friends and the team at the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute.
She continues to get periodic scans and follows up with her care teams regularly.
“Dr. Worth says my lung capacity is 98 percent. She has to look hard to even see that a lobe is missing,” smiles Peggy, as she eagerly anticipates her next chapter.