The past two years have been nothing short of an emotional roller coaster ride for Mickey Schrader.
In May 2016, he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer about a year after he decided to kick his 47-year tobacco habit. However, after undergoing new medical screenings and procedures at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, his diagnosis was downgraded to stage 1, and Schrader, 65, a Lake Balboa resident, is now in remission.
"The whole thing worked out for me for the better," Schrader said on Wednesday. "I've had two subsequent PET scans that have both looked pretty good, but I don't get cocky about it."
Schrader was treated for his lung cancer at the medical center's Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center. Oncologists at the facility were able to accurately diagnose Schrader after giving him a lung cancer screening, which is a relatively new test for patients, said Susan Scott, an oncology nurse navigator at the cancer center.
She said normal chest X-rays are not extremely precise in picking up lesions in the lungs. By the time an X-ray finds a lesion, it is already too big and will likely require chemotherapy to remove.
"Now, they do a low-dose CT scan and it's only for people that are 55 to 77 years old who have been heavy smokers," Scott said. "There is a little more radiation with CT scans — the equivalent of about two to three chest X-rays — but this is yearly scan, like a mammogram, Pap smear or colonoscopy."
Providence St. Joseph Medical Center and its cancer facility are teaming up with Schrader to promote the Great American Smokeout, the American Cancer Society's annual challenge to smokers to help them quit the habit.
Schrader chose to quit smoking in February 2015 after noticing he was becoming easily winded and started seeing lesions on his gums.
In April 2016, Schrader went in for a routine physical, and his doctor recommended he undergo a CT scan just to make sure he was in the clear. However, after getting scanned, his doctor told him she'd found a suspicious node in his upper right lung about a centimeter in diameter.
Soon after, Schrader had a PET scan and the results showed he had additional lesions in his bottom right lung and left lung.
An oncologist at the Disney Family Cancer Center initially told Schrader and his family that he had stage 4 cancer and to prepare for the worst. Not willing to accept the initial diagnosis, Schrader said he took his test results to another oncologist outside of the Providence system and they, too, said he had stage 4 cancer.
He tried the Disney Family Cancer Center again, this time talking to Dr. Rex Hoffman, the medical director at the facility, who recommended Schrader go in for a lung cancer screening, which is more precise.
"He told me that it might be some scar tissue or some noise in the picture," Schrader said.
Though a biopsy on the initial node came back positive, Schrader said every other scan and test he underwent after Hoffman's recommendation came back negative.
"My wife and son are very bitter at the first oncologist who made that blanket statement," Schrader said. "I consider it a blessing because I got the worst first, and I was ready for it … but every subsequent test got better and better."
Hoffman downgraded Schrader's cancer to stage 1, and he received five treatments of stereotactic radiosurgery, which specifically targets the areas of concern in his lungs.
As a Catholic, Schrader said he is blessed the tests he underwent were able to catch the lesions before they became worse.
"I didn't have any symptoms then, and I don't have any symptoms now," Schrader said. "I could have went undetected."
To learn more about lung cancer screenings, call the Disney Family Cancer Center at (844) 586-4543.