Volunteering saved woman’s life

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NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo. — April is Volunteer Month. Volunteering has many benefits, and for one metro woman, it had a life-saving one.

In December, Joanie Harrison needed to prove she didn’t have tuberculosis before she could volunteer at North Kansas City Hospital. Because she’d had a positive TB skin test years ago, the only way to prove she didn’t have TB was to have a chest x-ray.

“They noted an abnormal density in her right lung,” said Dr. Chris Sirridge.

Harrison said as soon as she arrived home, a nurse called and told her the chest x-ray showed something and she’d need a CT scan.

“And then she told me to have a nice day,” said Harrison, who added that she felt great and thought it was just some mistake.

But it wasn’t.

“Very simple, but very, very straightforward mass in the right upper lobe,” said Dr. Sirridge in describing what the CT scan found.

That led to a pet scan and a visit to a surgeon who told Harrison that she likely had lung cancer. And she did.

“It was a shock. I smoked in college which was a long time ago, and a little social smoking, but I never considered myself a smoker,” said Harrison.

Dr. Sirridge, an oncologist at North Kansas City Hospital, said cases of lung cancer in middle and older-aged women have been rising.

“Women who have not necessarily smoked. Women who may have other issues including radon, workplace exposure, secondhand smoke,” he said.

Harrison’s cancer was stage one, the earliest stage. Lung cancer is usually not found that early. Harrison had surgery to remove part of her lung, and no more treatment was necessary. That decision to volunteer?

“It saved my life most likely. Yes, it really did,” said Harrison.

She plans to continue volunteering at North Kansas City Hospital for a long, long time.

Harrison wouldn’t have been part of new lung cancer screening guidelines, but many long-time heavy smokers or former ones are. The new guidelines say they should consider having low-dose CT scans.

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