Lung Cancer Survivor Tells Patients ‘Stay Positive, Put Yourself in Good Hands’

Diane Messick, a three-time lung cancer survivor, understands very well the importance of optimism and trust while navigating a cancer journey, particularly one that entails multiple instances of disease.

“Stay positive, put your put yourself in good hands with a good doctor, feel comfortable with that doctor,” Messick told CURE® when asked if she had any advice for patients facing multiple instances of cancer or disease recurrence.

Given her history as a smoker, Messick, a former banker and human resources manager, had been urged by her primary care provider to have her lungs checked via X-ray, which was then followed by a biopsy from a pulmonologist, resulting in Messick receiving a diagnosis of cancer in her right lung in 2017.

Lung cancer survivor Diane Messick with her son, Paul Mezzatestra, during one of their annual trips to Las Vegas. (Photos courtesy of Hackensack University Medical Center)

Messick was connected with Dr. Nabil Rizk, chief of thoracic surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, New Jersey, who opted to treat Messick with a segmentectomy.

Whereas the standard surgical approach, a lobectomy, removes an entire section, or lobe, of a patient’s lung, a segmentectomy “is just a little bit more refined way of treating cancers within a lobe without taking as much lung tissue,” as Rizk explained to CURE®.

“At her initial presentation, she had several abnormalities in her lungs, any one of which could have been a lung cancer,” Rizk said of Messick. “So, we were already thinking from the beginning when we started treating her to try to spare as much lung capacity as we could while treating the lung cancers that we knew she had. So, at her initial presentation, we treated her right side with a segmentectomy knowing that, potentially at some point in the future, she may need some additional treatments for which we need to conserve lung capacity.”

Following the surgery, Messick said she was connected with Dr. Harry D. Harper of Hackensack University Medical Center’s John Theurer Cancer Center, “and we kept an eye on everything. Every three months, I would go in for a new CT scan with contrast, just keep an eye on it. We didn’t want anything else to show up.”

A second instance of lung cancer was found in Messick’s left lung in 2018, and this time Rizk performed a lobectomy.

“The second cancer she developed, which was about a year and a half after the first one, was in her left side and lower lobe, and it was in a location where the only way to remove it surgically was to remove the left lower lobe of the lung,” Rizk said. “So, sometimes our hand is forced as to what kind of operation we need to do based on the location of the tumor. So, the advantage that we had at that operation was that we had spared lung capacity from the first operation so that we had the ability to take out her whole left lower lobe without significantly impacting her breathing.”

“Since 2018, I’ve been going every four months to get scanned just to make sure that there’s nothing coming up,” Messick said. “And of course, just this past August, they found another cancer cell on my upper left lung. So, because my breathing capabilities are so low, he sent me for radiation to get rid of it, so I went to Dr. Brett Lewis, who’s the radiation oncologist in Hackensack. … The radiation really does knock you; it just makes you very tired and lethargic, you went to sleep all the time.”

For Messick, life goes on. She made her annual trip to Las Vegas with her son, and still plans to honor her retirement present to herself, a month in Florida’s Key West every year.

“When I had to go back to Dr. Rizk for the third time, I was like, ‘We keep meeting like this, you owe me a dinner one of these times,’” Messick said. “And he’d laugh, but you just feel comfortable that he’s doing the right thing, that he’s looking at the test scan results and he’s seeing where it should go and what you should be doing.”

“Obviously, every patient is different,” Rizk said. “But based on where their cancer might be located, based on their underlying physiology, you need to provide a tailored approach that best takes those issues into account. So, in her case, given the potential that we had to do several surgeries, we had to spare lung capacity. And by screening her and following her closely, her last cancer was caught at an early enough stage that radiation was also an option.

“So, it’s very important, once you meet these patients, to discuss with them what the future is going to look like after you treat their initial cancer, how you’re going to follow them and how you’re going to treat any potential new cancer.”

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