SJF Website_Cancer Care_Lela Alston

State legislator feels blessed to fight lung cancer

Arizona Representative Lela Alston has dedicated her life to caring and advocating for others, but she neglected her own health until recently. Unfortunately, it wasn’t soon enough to avoid a deadly diagnosis.

Alston had been a longtime heavy smoker, but kicked the habit several years ago. On the advice of her doctor, she began annual lung cancer screenings at Norton Thoracic Institute at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center.

The first couple of screenings were fine, but the results of her last CT scan came with the news that nobody wants to hear: “You have lung cancer.”

A history of fighting passionately

Having served in the Arizona Senate for 18 years and in the Arizona House of Representatives for five years, Alston has fought passionately for education, healthcare, environmental protection, and rights for seniors and people living with disabilities.

She is just as determined to overcome her personal health setback as she has been fighting political causes.

That resolve is due mostly to the fact that her lung cancer was caught early. “I am so grateful that St. Joseph’s offers this lung cancer screening program,” Alston said. “My prognosis would not be as good without it.”

Early detection can reduce lung cancer deaths

A National Cancer Institute study indicated that early detection could reduce lung cancer deaths by 20 percent. “Without it, six out of 10 people diagnosed die within a year,” said Elbert Kuo, MD, who performed surgery to remove the cancer in Alston’s lung. “Studies also show that if we find the cancer early, eight of 10 patients will still be alive five years later.”

Following surgery, Alston received radiation for a small spot on her other lung, and remains under the care of Panos Fidias, MD, thoracic oncologist at The Cancer Center at St. Joseph’s.

“We have built a cohesive team to offer patients the most comprehensive lung cancer care possible in all of Phoenix,” said Dr. Fidias.

“I feel blessed that we caught this early and that I’ve had the best possible care,” said Alston. “Since February, Medicare pays for a low-dose CT scan.  Everyone should take advantage of this opportunity.”

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