Lung cancer patient gets a second chance after lobectomy
Kellie Bramlet Blackburn
It was a 5.5-cm tumor wrapped around Jason McFarland’s pulmonary artery that threatened to end his 20-year career as a police officer and, possibly, his life.
He’d sought medical attention after coughing up blood. But at age 42, he never suspected cancer.
The doctors near his hometown of Effingham, Illinois, weren’t optimistic about the diagnosis the X-rays and CT scans revealed: stage IIIA non-small cell lung cancer.
“It’s going to take a Herculean effort to survive this cancer,” his doctor told him.
Jason would need surgery, and because of the tumor’s location, it wouldn’t be easy. The doctor told him it was unlikely he’d get to go back to work and there was a 30% chance he might not make it off the operating table at all.
Jason thought of his wife and three children. He thought of the career he loved. He decided to look for other odds.
Finding hope at MD Anderson
It was a friend who worked in an emergency room that recommended MD Anderson.
“If I were you, I’d be in Texas,” he told Jason.
A week later, Jason and his wife flew to Houston for an appointment. He met with his care team, which recommended four rounds of chemotherapy, and then a lobectomy, followed by radiation therapy.
Jason loved the comradery and compassion among MD Anderson staff and the other patients. But most of all he loved the hope his doctors gave him.
Remembering the odds his doctor back in Illinois had given him, he asked his new surgeon, David Rice, M.D., what the chances were that he wouldn’t survive the surgery. Rice told him 3%.
“Look, you’ve got a difficult case, but it’s just another Monday for us,” Rice told Jason.
“That’s when I thought, I really like this guy,” Jason says.
Jason’s lung cancer treatment: chemotherapy and a lobectomy
Jason completed four cycles of chemotherapy at home in Illinois. This shrunk the tumor down to half its original size. Then, he returned to MD Anderson for surgery: a left lower lobectomy, in which they removed the tumor, along with a portion of his lung.
The surgery was successful, and Jason’s recovery was smooth.
“My pain was very well managed while I was in the hospital. On a scale, of one to ten, ten being very painful, I don’t think it ever got over a three,” he says.
He was discharged from the hospital five days later.
Jason’s radiation therapy
Given the location of Jason’s cancer, his radiation oncologist, Michael O’Reilly, M.D., told him it was best that he come to MD Anderson for his radiation therapy, so he returned in early November. This was going to be a longer stay than any of his previous visits, so he and his dad rented an RV and made the trip together.
Jason had heard stories about the difficult side effects that often accompany radiation, but he said he was fortunate that he didn’t experience any of them.
He finished his last round of radiation on New Year’s Eve 2014. His scans showed no evidence of disease.
Moving forward after lung cancer treatment
So far, Jason’s scans have all been clear. His doctors believe it’s very unlikely that the cancer will return. And while he could do his annual scans closer to home, Jason still returns to MD Anderson simply because he likes to visit.
As for going back to work, Jason returned Jan. 15, 2014 – just a few weeks after finishing up treatment. He can’t do everything he once did, but he’s grateful to continue serving.
“When you’re snatched from the jaws of death, some teeth marks are expected,” he says.