For someone who never touched a cigarette in his life, lung cancer was a hard diagnosis to swallow. But Greg stayed focused on getting better and attributes his outcome to the great care he received at St. Luke’s Cancer Center.
Whether we realize it or not, when most of us hear “lung cancer,” we immediately think of smoking. Smokers get lung cancer - that’s what most people believe. But that assumption is hardly fair to those non-smokers diagnosed with this disease, like Greg, of Bethlehem. Although smoking contributes to 90 percent of lung cancer in men, Greg never smoked a day in his life. And when people found out he had lung cancer, they inevitably asked if he smoked, assuming the answer would be yes.
It always hurt Greg when people would draw that conclusion, almost as if he somehow deserved his fate like he did something wrong. But Greg wants people to know that lung cancer not only affects smokers but can afflict just about anyone. He also wants people to know that no matter the root cause of lung cancer, the two-pronged strategy is the same - hope and fight! And because of his team of St. Luke’s cancer experts gave him hope, he’s winning his fight.
In 2014, Greg noticed that he was having some breathing issues. He’d struggle to breathe with any physical activities like mowing the lawn or carrying laundry up from the basement. He’d have to stop often to take breaks in order to breathe. The problem just kept worsening so he ultimately sought the expertise of his longtime family doctor, Matthew S. Bartelt, DO for testing that revealed a large tumor, the size of a golf ball, on his right lung.
Greg was diagnosed with Stage 1 lung cancer right before Thanksgiving that year. There was something about “Stage 1” that didn’t seem THAT scary. Greg was oddly calm and optimistic. Upon the recommendation of Dr. Bartelt, Greg consulted with William R. Burfeind, Jr., MD, St. Luke’s chief of surgery and fellowship-trained thoracic surgeon. Greg immediately trusted Dr. Burfeind because of his reputation in his field.
“One of the most essential parts of my job as a cancer surgeon is to make sure the patient has a very good understanding of the biology of the disease, and what to expect in terms of next steps and what I can do to help them,” explains Dr. Burfeind. “Being able to take what might be a life-threatening disease, getting rid of it and making a big impact on someone’s life is something that drives me every day.”
Before his operation, Greg’s cancer had rapidly increased to Stage 3, but Greg was still hopeful and trusted that Dr. Burfeind would successfully remove his tumor and part of his lung, which is exactly what he did. Greg’s surgery was right after Christmas that year; he was optimistic and positive every step of the way. While he did struggle with intense side-effects from chemo, he managed to stay positive and focused on surviving. “I stayed positive because that’s who I am,” says Greg. “As a mortician by trade, I kept thinking that I have to do what I tell my grieving families to do. I tell them that outlook is part of your recovery. Positive outlook, even in death or disease, can make monumental changes.”
“What makes me the happiest is seeing a patient that’s gratified with their outcome and the treatment they’ve received at St. Luke’s and Greg is the perfect example of that,” says Dr. Burfeind. “Knowing that because our St. Luke’s staff - doctors, nurses and all other personnel who touch the lives of our patients - worked together as a team, a patient’s life is better - that’s our ultimate goal at St. Luke’s Cancer Center.”
Since Greg’s surgery and chemotherapy treatments, he is active in the community and even went on a dream vacation to Disney World. He feels like he’s come out on the other side of what could have been a life-threatening situation, and he wants to spread the word that positivity, kindness, and hope can get you through most anything. “Hope and my choice to see compassionate doctors like Dr. Burfeind and Dr. Bartelt who really care about patients like family,” says Greg. “That’s what got me through.”