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Solving the Puzzle: Linking Arthritis to Lung Cancer

Friday, September 16, 2016 11:17 AM

Blame debilitating, sudden arthritis pain for the abrupt standstill in Rascha Karol’s active life. Intense pain halted her travel plans and dampened her love of gardening. 

“It affected all of my joints,” said Karol, 79, of Skokie. “Not just in my hands, but my shoulders. Also, my ankles, knees and everything. We couldn’t figure out what was going on.”

LifeAfterArthritis

She saw a range of specialists outside of NorthShore and tried several different therapies—from anti-inflammatory drugs to injections—but to no avail. Her joint pain and swelling only got worse.

Karol mentioned the unusual arthritis onset to her NorthShore-affiliated Ophthalmologist Andrew Berman, MD, during an annual vision exam. Dr. Berman recommended she see NorthShore Rheumatologist Amanda Myers, MD, who had recently treated another mysterious arthritis case with a surprising origin—lung cancer. Dr. Myers immediately arranged a chest X-ray for her new patient, as some rare cases of lung cancer can cause symptoms that mimic rheumatoid arthritis.

“The X-ray found two tumors in my right lung,” recalled Karol. “Dr. Myers called and said, ‘We think you might have lung cancer.’ It was shocking and scary.”

Follow-up scans and a lung biopsy confirmed it was indeed early-stage lung cancer. Dr. Myers then collaborated with Pulmonologist Vadim Leyenson, MD, and Thoracic Surgeon Ki Wan Kim, MD, to develop an effective treatment plan at Kellogg Cancer Center.

Dr. Kim, who holds an academic appointment at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, used a minimally invasive technique called video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery, or VATS. Entering the chest through several small incisions, the surgeon is guided by a tiny camera that transmits images of the inside of the chest onto a video monitor. Using VATS, Dr. Kim precisely removed the pair of tumors.

“Dr. Kim was great. He got it all, and there was no need for chemotherapy or radiation,” said Karol. She also praised Dr. Myers and the entire team at NorthShore.
“It was very seamless, from diagnosis to surgery, thanks to all the members of our integrated team who played a role in Rascha’s care,” Dr. Myers said.

“If it wasn’t for Dr. Myers, I maybe wouldn’t be here today,” Karol added. “If she hadn’t ordered that chest X-ray, by the time I would have had symptoms of the cancer, it might have been too late.”

Karol is grateful to be moving on with her life. She is back in the garden this summer and savors spending time with her growing family: her husband, three children, 11 grandchildren and two just-born great-grandsons.

“I never thought I’d have great-grandchildren,” she said. “I’m just so grateful to be with NorthShore!”