Five years ago, on February 14, 2010 I had the bottom two lobes of my right lung removed due to lung cancer. I was blessed with an amazing, compassionate and competent thoracic surgeon named Carolyn E. Reed, M.D. I say this with confidence; because she was the doctor I went to for a second opinion. If I had listened to the first surgeon I consulted with, then I would have ended up with an unnecessary removal of the entire right side of my lung. Due to Dr. Reed’s vast experience and surgical skills, the top right lobe was sparred during surgery.
I remember meeting her for the first time and how she instantly made me feel as ease. I’d been diagnosed with lung cancer only weeks before. After ten years of being mistakenly treated for adult onset asthma, I was confused as to how I'd been misdiagnosed for so many years by so many doctors. I was one of those people who never smoked yet somehow had lung cancer. I remember her telling me after numerous tests had been completed that, “If you’re going to have cancer, then this is the one you want to have.” What she meant by this was that the cancer was very slow growing. It was like a jawbreaker sitting in my bronchial tube and had been slowly growing over the years until it became large enough to block all oxygen to my middle two lobes, which then caused the bottom lobe to collapse.
My husband worked in the medical field (to include the O.R.) for over fourteen years and told me that he had rarely seen a doctor so knowledgeable, patient and compassionate. Before going into surgery, there was hope that the tumor could be removed without doing a full thoracotomy, meaning cutting into my side and opening the ribs. On the way to pathology, Dr. Reed saw my husband waiting. My husband is paralyzed and experiences severe muscle spasms when he gets upset. When my husband saw her, he had a spasm that knocked his phone out of his hands and it then skidded across the floor. She stopped to pick it up and then paused to speak with him. She took the time to draw a diagram on a napkin he had, and explained exactly what she had found and why she wasn’t able to remove the tumor using laparoscopic methods. She was able to spare the top lobe, which we weren’t sure was possible. Unlike many surgeons, after sending a tissue sample down to pathology to find out if there was a clear margin, she personally walked down during surgery (instead of taking the pathologist’s word) to see for herself. That extra step is something she did to ensure that her patients had the best chance for recovery possible. As a survivor, I think that makes her exceptional.
I remember going to see Dr. Reed for follow-up appointments, of which I had many in the first two years, and she always took the time to talk with me and my husband. She would patiently answer questions or concerns that I had and even made time to briefly chit chat. Not many doctors make time for that anymore and it’s something that I feel made her stand out from any other doctor I had encountered previously. She made me feel valued as a person and her patient. I even asked if I could take a picture of her and me along with Maggie McClain, ANP-C. She said yes and I still have that photo to remind of what I survived. Dr. Reed understood great “bedside manner."
On February 14th of this year, while doing strength training and cardio at the gym, I took time to reflect on the past five years post-surgery. I marveled at the capacity of the human body to compensate for something as significant as losing two of the five lobes that make up our lungs. Although I get a little winded and my heart pounds a little harder when running faster than 5.5 mph, the fact that I can run that fast is astounding! It’s at those times that I am reminded to back off a little and respect what my body has survived. I am forever in gratitude to Dr. Carolyn Reed and her exceptional staff at MUSC.
I sat down today with the intent of writing a thank you letter to Dr. Reed. I went online to look up the address for MUSC, where she practiced, and couldn’t find her name on the staff listing. I was confused. I remembered that she had problems with her hip and had to walk with a cane, so my first instinct was that maybe she had retired. So I then did a Google search and that’s when I saw her name and photo.
Now instead of writing a thank you letter, I am writing a piece in honor of her. It is with great sadness and surprise today that I discovered that she passed away three years ago in 2012. What I found online was her obituary. That means that she passed away shortly after I stopped going to see her for follow-ups, because we moved to Texas. I dug through my medical files and pulled out the photo. She is standing on my right with her short brown hair, glasses and a big smile on her narrow face. On my other side is Maggie, whom I hope followed in Dr. Reed’s footsteps. Maybe I’m too emotional, but I actually cried for a moment, because Dr. Reed had that kind of impact on me. My husband said this about her, “Every time I lose faith in doctors, I think of her.”
Today, when I run at the gym, I will run with Dr. Carolyn E. Reed in my memory and heart.