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HeartBeats Episode 14: Patient Story - I Survived Lung Cancer

HeartBeats: Shipley Cardiothoracic Center Podcasts

Host:

Welcome, I'm Cathy Murtagh-Schaffer and I'm your host for this episode of HeartBeats. This podcast is brought to you by Shipley Cardiothoracic Center, an educational series dedicated to providing our patients and the community with information and education about our cardiothoracic surgery program, Lee HGalth and matters affecting your health. Today. We have a very special guest with us, Michael Caggiano, who was a patient here at Shipley. I invited him here today to share his story about his treatment for his lung cancer. Welcome Mike, thank you so much for joining me today. Maybe we can start by having you tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? What do you do, etc.?

Mike Caggiano:

Well, my name is Mike Caggiano, as you know, this all started last year, I retired from Lee Health had worked at Lee Health for 28 years as a scrub tech. (host)Oh, no kidding. Operating room. Mostly orthopedics. So a bit around healthcare before that, I would professional carpenter. I had my own business. Did carpentry work all the time and yeah, just saw the rigors of that said, you know, I said, oh, I might do something else. And then it ended up getting into the health care. So, you know, it was really amazing working in the operating room, working with these doctors, see how committed they were and you know, luckily I enjoy good health through all that. So, anyway, so, last year I retired and some of the doctors that I worked with wanted me to work at their surgery center, you know, PRN. So what happened was I went in, and apart of the application, you know, I had to go through physical and all that. So did that, and I had to take a chest x-ray and it had been probably a year, maybe since I'd had a chest x-ray and they found a spot. They said "oh this looks like cancer." So that started all the MRIs, other tests, and they did the pet scan MRI. And I went and saw two, cancer specialists and they would look at the MRIs and the pet scans, and then they would stare at it intently, they'd go "Oh, ohhhhh ugh". (host) That's not a good feeling. Anyway. Yeah, it was in a really bad spot and it was wrapped around the coronary artery and, you know, they were pretty sure it was cancer, but they couldn't even get in there to take a biopsy. I know what that's about, sometimes doing OR, you know, I would see it where it was so difficult to get something, to get a piece of it that it really wasn't worth it. So, you know, they just, like I said, I went to see two guys and they were both shaking their heads. So I said, well, you know, why don't I see a surgeon? And they recommended me to Dr. DeFrain and thank God we did, you know, that was a lifesaver. So I came in and saw Dr. DeFrain and he did the same thing. Looking at the MRI, I have to say, he looked at it and said "ohhhh it's was in a bad spot", you know, blah, blah, blah. And he said, you know, I can go in there and, you know, try to take it out.

Host:

I know he was very concerned about the location of your cancer. When the two of you were talking, did you understand that there was a chance you could lose your entire lung?

Mike Caggiano:

Oh yeah. I told them right from the start. I said, do whatever you have to do. I said, take out a piece of the lung, take out the whole lung, whatever you have to do, just do it, you know? But I like to, you know, the one shot I says, cause you know. He said, we're going to take out the lymph nodes first. He said, if the lymph nodes are positive, he said, I'll just close you up. You know, he said, you know, that's pretty much, you just have to go to chemo and radiation, if you decide to go that route,.I wasn't sure that I wanted to do that. If it was that far gone, I probably would've just stayed the course and let it, let it run out because that really does, to me, it's just so hard on a person. I don't know if it's worth it, but it depends on what you have to live for. And so I've had a pretty good life.

Host:

Speaking of what to live for. I know you have a very special hobby that you like to participate in. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Speaker 2:

Oh, diving. Well, I dive and I do carpentry, so I spear fish and I love that. And so that was one of the questions, you know, I asked Dr.DeFrain, you know, cause he's a spear fisherman also and I said, will I'll be able to dive after this? And oh, you know, of course it depends on what happens, you know? But I talked to some friends of my, even with just one lung, I've got a friend at the, his brother-in-law's playing tennis and he's doing all the things he used to do, with just one lung. So I wasn't too worried about that. I'm in pretty good health, and I know that you can build up that lung and you know, make it, just make it a lot larger and you know, so you have more air and in-take. So I wasn't so much worried about that. It was just, you know, you have any fear when you're going in there. You don't know what you're going to wake up to.

Host:

What were your first thoughts after the operation?

Mike Caggiano:

My first thoughts after the operation, it was funny because, I woke up in ICU and they had the tube in, still had, you know, the endotracheal. So they are pulling the tube out and then another nurse was there and she said, oh, I have your wife on the phone here. You know? And you know, it was pretty sore, but I was feeling good and I said, so I said, " IM ALIVE!" everybody was laughing and I felt great. I didn't notice any difference with my breathing. You know? I mean, you know, of course there was a little bit of pain, but you know, they had me pretty much pain free.

Host:

So ultimately though I know from reading your report, your operative report, Dr. DeFrain was able to go in minimally invasive, so he didn't have to open up your chest to do this. He got the lymph nodes, your lymph nodes were negative and then found that spot in your lung and was able just to take out the upper part of your lungs. Instead of your whole lung.

Mike Caggiano:

Right, he said, you know, I mean, it was a long procedure. I think. I mean, I came in early. I think they started to around noon, one o'clock, but they operated for quite a while. So first they went in and took the lymph nodes. And after, when I talked to Dr. DeFrain afterwards, he said I just kept getting better and better. He said, they took the lymph nodes out and they were all clean. You know, all first he went down a endotracheal tube, you know, he went and took a look at everything to make sure it wasn't.

Host:

Yeah, he did. He did, what's called a bronchoscopy.

Mike Caggiano:

Then they took the lymph nodes. He says those were all clear, you know, they had to wait for the results of those. And then he went in and did surgery and was able to take just the top part of the lung, like you say, and then, you know, he had to, of course that artery was, it was all wrapped around the artery. So he did and do some arterial plasty. Yeah. You know, and thank God, you know, he's a miracle worker that is because they will do that lickety split. And like I said, I think they had me six o'clock. I think it was when they were pulling the tube out about six, maybe six 30 and boom, you know, I was breathing and I didn't notice any difference.

Host:

Can you tell our listeners a little bit about your postoperative care? Now I'm pretty sure that after your surgery, you had a chest tube in, is that correct? Yes. And once you got the tube, the endotracheal tube pull, they sent you over to SPCU, our step down unit, and from there, what happened?

Mike Caggiano:

Well, you know, like I say, all my care was exceptional, you know, all the way through. I really have to say, well, I went in two days before Christmas. So yeah, my surgery was the 23rd of December. So that night I slept pretty good, but I made a mistake, I told them when they came in to give me meds, I said, no, I said, I don't want meds because I was worried about, you know, my bowels going asleep. Well little did I know they'd already put all my intestants to sleep, you know, the surgery being that long. So, you know, that's always kind of tough, you know, getting everything going again. So, I told him, I said, yeah, I don't want any meds, I 'll just take some aspirin and that was fine for a day, but I had a really hard time getting up, moving around. It was very painful. I did it, but then finally I got back on some medications so that I could move around better and you really want to move. So don't refuse any pain medication. Take them until you feel you can move, you know, let them wean you off slowly.

Host:

And I will tell you that first day you probably didn't feel a whole lot of pain because they do, what's called a nerve block around your ribs where they make the incision. But after that nerve block wears off, you definitely are going to be uncomfortable.

Mike Caggiano:

Right! Yeah, and the chest too, you know, it was, that was uncomfortable. You know, I had had some funny things happen, you know, cause one time I got up, I got to go to the bathroom and the nurse had been in and she lifted my left-hand rail and my tube was out the left side. So, I had to reach over the railing, you know, I get the rail down and I was struggling a little bit and then I finally got up, went over to the toilet, which was pretty close by, you know, and you have to bring your, your drain with you. So, I went in there and I'm peeing into just the urinal cause they're keeping an eye on everything. And next thing I know about six nurses came running into my room, you know, and they thought I was dying, I set off all the alarms that maybe one of the leaves came off. Yeah. But it was kind of funny, you know, they were, they were lickety split on the spot.

Mike Caggiano:

Yeah. So anyway, yeah, moving around. I say, you know, make sure to get all your pain medications, but you know, another thing, make sure that as soon as you start to wean off of those that you get, you know, after a couple of days you get stuff to get your intestines going , because that was also a problem. So, I came home the day after Christmas and I felt great. You know, I've been walking around the staff was unbelievable, you know, especially working Christmas and you know, over the holidays it's tough, but they were never anything except excellent. You know, everybody. So, so anyway, so we came home and I felt great and I was eating well and I knew I still had to go and I still had, I went a little bit in the hospital, they had to give me a suppository and I should've done more, I should have taken some liquids, but I didn't. And so I got home on the 24 and my home health team came in to see me, and of course my home health care nurse, you know, the physical therapist and her, she graded me and made me get up and out of the chair and do all the things that you have to do. And she said, well, I don't know how to grade you because you're already doing beyond what we ask for when you're cured. so she said this will be our last visit and ill be fine. Then I saw the other nurse and you know, of course there was a big clot coming out of my, tube site, but an inch long, I told him, I says, what, just cut it off. I said, it's just a clot. "Oh no, I can't do that". Whatever. So he put a bandage over it. I had to cut it off later, but you know, just that big clot hanging out. I was just glad to get that tube out.

Host:

Yeah. People complain the most about that chest tube.

Mike Caggiano:

And it bled for probably a week after surgery. So I had to keep stuff on that. You know.

Host:

You must have been incredibly relieved to find out that you had had a surgical cure and that you weren't going to need chemotherapy or radiation.

Mike Caggiano:

Well, I didn't really know at first I, you know, Dr. DeFrain came in and he said, yeah, he said, the lymph nodes are clear. We got everything out. You know, he didn't say that he had it out with margins, but you know, that was probably, he had to wait for that result a little bit later. So I didn't find out about that until about a week later, but yeah, the way I felt and the way everything was gone, I, you know, I was hoping, you know, credibly relieved. Yeah, it was a miracle. A Christmas miracle, you know, it was really. I had a lot of people praying for I really did, you know, and that, that worked. So anyways. The funny thing about that, the bowels is I took a, I don't know, I took a slow acting, laxative. I took a slow acting laxative and at the end of that, the day after Christmas end of the 26th, I was really, really starting to feel bloated and I couldn't go, and it was starting to hurt, you know, it was pushing up against the wall, and I was saying, oh, geez, I hope I don't have to go in and do some, you know, I said, it's, you know, so, so I think it was 11 o'clock. I took more laxatives.

Host:

Oh dear.

Mike Caggiano:

Yeah. You know, and that was, that was all it took, cause I'd been eating and then, you know, the food was building up and I couldn't go and you know, yes, it's a terrible feeling. Yeah. And I just didn't want to have to go in an emergency situation. So luckily I didn't have to, but you know, I can't stress how important those laxatives are.

Host:

Well, narcotics are well-known to slow things down and then on top of that, anesthesia does the same thing. So what you're describing is something that we know happens and we expect it to happen. It's just convincing our patients that you really do need to take this medicine.

Mike Caggiano:

Absolutely. Absolutely. That's very important, can't stress that enough.

Host:

So March 23rd is a special date.

Mike Caggiano:

Oh my God. Right.

Host:

And can you tell us what that date means to you?

Host:

It says, if you don't, I made it saved my life, you know, Dr. DeFrain and all the staff and the OR, you know, everybody, you know, they saved my life and it was because of the early detection and the, like I said, the reason I got that early detection was it was kind of a fluke because I decided to work PRN. Right. So I told the doctors and asked me to work PRN, Ron Gardner and, Dr. Pfeiffer in a couple of years, Dr. Gomez, you know, they kind of saved my life, by asking me to work there because without that it may have gone on undetective. So I would just say to anybody, you know, at least have a chest x-ray once a year.

Speaker 1:

Well, I think that's the moral of the story is that

Speaker 2:

Chest x-ray is cheap. You don't have to have an MRI, you know, they're going to spot it with a chest x-ray.

Host:

And I think the new recommendations that have come out just this past year is that anybody 50 and older, who has a history of smoking should get a yearly cat scan. And, that's what, it was at 55, it was age 55 and now they've lowered it to 50 because we know that just like you, if we can catch a cancer early, particularly lung cancer, we can save lives. It's once that cancer gets spread into the lymph nodes, that's when disaster start to happen.

Mike Caggiano:

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So, so the preventative part of this is, you know, I can't emphasize that enough, you know.

Host:

Did you have a history of smoking?

Mike Caggiano:

I smoked when I was younger, but I quit. I'm going to say I was 31. So I'm 66 now.

Host:

So 30 years ago. Yeah.

Mike Caggiano:

Yeah. It was a long, long time ago. Now I know a lot of people that haven't smoked ever. Right. They've had lung cancer. Now I was able to go back to the gym. Like January 1st, I went out, I went January 2nd, I think I started back in the gym and, I was talking with some of the guys that I know there, you know, just from going to the gym I met, and they said, you know, they had a buddy that had the same thing, had a little lung cancer and you know, he's no longer with us. You know, they said, well, he didn't really take care of himself. Well, but I don't think that had a lot to do it. I think just got detected too late.

Host:

So early detection in lung cancer is the, is the key. There's no question

Mike Caggiano:

My quality of life has been every bit as good as it was before the surgery now. And you know, I've been diving.

Host:

That's why I asked you about, that's why I asked you about March 23rd because I, in your chart March 23rd is the date that you're supposed to be able to start diving again. But it sounds like it went a little earlier than that. So it's all good.

Mike Caggiano:

I think that all depends on how you feel. You know, I mean the soft tissue healing, they say six weeks, six to eight weeks, six to eight weeks and soft tissue healing. So, so beyond that, you know, you're pretty much how you feel, you know.

Host:

There's the wonderful part about minimally invasive surgery is we don't have to go in there and break any ribs in order to get where we need to be having, having those scopes go in and give us sight instead of actually visualizing what we're operating on. It's a miracle having, having minimally invasive surgery and how quickly your backup and moving around again.

Mike Caggiano:

Yeah. This would have been a whole different story if they had to take a rib out or even, you know, possibly crack the chest like they do in heart surgery and some lung surgeries, you know? Yeah. It's crazy and the techniques and stuff that Dr. DeFrain has and his competence is just amazing. You know, it's just, I'm just really lucky to have him really was and the whole team, like I said, the whole hospital, you know, the anesthesiologists, everybody was exemplary, you know, and I've been around OR, and I, you kow,

Host:

Yeah. So you know what, you know what you're talking about?

Mike Caggiano:

I know outstanding work, what I say. Yeah. Everything was outstanding. So I'm just very grateful. And all I can say to anybody out there is, at least a chest x-ray every year and you know, and maybe, you know, an MRI certainly could save your life.

Host:

I think the moral of the story is make sure you follow with a primary care physician on a yearly basis, get a physical, get a chest x-ray and, and then whatever other recommendations that are out there, I mean, a chest x-ray colonoscopy, blood work, those are bare minimums that people need to do because again, catching cancer early is life saving.

Mike Caggiano:

Well, I'm living proof. You know, they saved my life and I, I can't tell you how shocked that all my friends were in an operating room when I went up to visit him a week later after my surgery. Oh my God. I said, yep. I said, I'm trying to get around as best I can man, and I came up the stairs too.

Host:

Well, I am really glad the angels were with you.

Mike Caggiano:

I am too. And I think, like I said, Dr. DeFrain, Shipley Cardiothoracic Center here is an amazing group. They saved my life and what can I say? You know, I just, you know, I was really, really lucky. So, you know, just try to be lucky yourselves.

Host:

Sometimes we make our own luck. Don't we

Mike Caggiano:

Get that preventative x-ray MRI, whatever. Thanks a lot.

Speaker 1:

So Mike, I'm really happy for you. And, um, I'm so glad you came in today. This is a great story until next time I'm Cathy Murtagh-Schaffer and this has been heartbeats, Shipley Cardiothoracic Centers podcast, dedicated to bringing research innovation and education to our patients and the community.

Lung cancer survivor, Mike Caggiano joins our host to share his story about his life-saving procedure.

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