Nearly five years ago, Mary-Ellen Kirkbride responded to a lung cancer researcher’s call for help. Her intent was simple — to honor her father’s memory. Little did she know her own life was about to be saved.
Kirkbride knew the lung cancer statistics all too well. She had lost her father to lung cancer years earlier, and was about to watch her mother lose the battle.
She was intrigued when she discovered a nearby cancer center was seeking former smokers to volunteer for a study that would compare annual CT scans and X-rays as screening tools for early stages of lung cancer.
Kirkbride jumped at the opportunity to volunteer, seeing it as a way to honor her father. She had smoked for years, but had quit 3 years earlier as a present to herself on her 50th birthday.
Kirkbride’s role in the study was to receive CT scans. Her first two scans were clear. The third, however, showed a devastating change — a cancerous tumor.
In December 2005, surgeons removed a cancerous lobe from one of Kirkbride’s lungs. “That CT study saved my life!” she remembers.
After follow-up chemotherapy, Kirkbride returned to work. She also began volunteering for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. “I talk to every single person I know about cancer and early detection and prevention,” said Kirkbride. “I tell them, ‘if you ever smoked, get a baseline CT.’”
A year passed, and Kirkbride’s life had seemingly returned to normal. She had taken initiative to live a healthier lifestyle by swimming, and was passing her lung function tests with flying colors. “No one would have known I had cancer unless I told them,” said Kirkbride.
In summer 2008, however, cancer relapse changed Kirkbride’s life once more. Doctors detected two new nodules in the bottom of her left lung. She underwent surgery in August, where the surgeon found two additional nodules within her scar tissue and a mass within the lining of her lung.
Despite this relapse, Kirkbride maintains a positive outlook. “I’ve been so fortunate — I have the best doctors, surgeons and oncologist,” said Kirkbride, who will now be scanned quarterly to detect any further cancerous developments.
Though her breathing capacity lessens with each operation, she continues to swim with great support from her coach.
Kirkbride has also recently discovered the Smith Farms Foundation, which provides courses in yoga, nutrition and meditation for cancer survivors. “I have the best support system of friends, colleagues and former clients. And now, my days are full of these wonderful activities that will help me live longer,” said Kirkbride, who proves that early detection can save lives. “I am one lucky lady.”