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Health

Joliet-area oncologist optimistic about new lung cancer treatments

Morris, Joliet residents share their experiences with the disease

Jordan Bellos Lombardi of Morris had worked at Aurelios Pizza in Morris just two weeks when her mother Gina Lombardi was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. The restaurant is hosting a fundraiser for Gina on Oct. 16.
Jordan Bellos Lombardi of Morris had worked at Aurelios Pizza in Morris just two weeks when her mother Gina Lombardi was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. The restaurant is hosting a fundraiser for Gina on Oct. 16.

MORRIS – In 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 210,828 people were diagnosed with lung cancer in the United States and 157,423 died from it.

But one area oncologist is optimistic.

“We are finding newer ways to treat it,” said Dr. Nafisa Burhani, oncologist with Joliet Oncology-Hematology Associates. “As we discover new mutations, we can develop targeted therapy, and many drugs have come out recently that target these specific mutations. Chemotherapy treatment is becoming more personalized. It’s very exciting, and I think in the next few years, it will get better.”

Morris resident Gina Lombardi is grappling with it now. Her daughter’s employers, Aurelio’s Pizza in Morris, are holding a fundraiser for her Friday. Her cancer was diagnosed at Stage 4 last summer, and the treatments are expensive.

“She had a chest cold, and she had a horrible cough. She thought it was bronchitis,” said her daughter, Jordan Bellos Lombardi. “She couldn’t breathe, so she went to the hospital.”

A chest X-ray showed a 6-inch tumor in her lungs.

“She said she knew right away it was cancer,” Jordan said.

Cancer symptoms were present two years before the diagnosis, Jordan said, but they were attributed to other conditions. Lombardi’s back pain was likely because of the many tumors that had metastasized to her back. Gina said Lombardi also has tumors on her ribs, right airway and lymph nodes. And that’s not all.

“She lost like 60 pounds in three months,” Jordan said.

Nevertheless, Jordan said Lombardi is in good spirits. Jordan is taking a semester off college as a history major to help care for her mother. Her sister, Jade Staskl Lombardi, is helping, too.

Jordan said her mother has been a smoker all her life, and that, according to Burhani, is the main cause of lung cancer.

“Smoking is the biggest risk,” Burhani said. “We’ve seen a rise in the amount of lung cancer in nonsmokers recently, as well. We don’t know why. Exposure to smoking, especially to a child, does increase the risk of lung cancer, and so does radon and environmental pollution. ... Lung disease can also increase the risk of cancer from scarring in the lung tissue.”

According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is categorized into small cell cancer and non-small cell cancer. Each grows differently and is treated differently. Small cell cancer is less common, but it is an aggressive one.

It is, however, more responsive to chemotherapy and radiation therapy, according to the CDC.

A cure is difficult to achieve because it’s likely to have spread by the time of diagnosis. Current treatments do not cure non-small cancer, although they can shrink its size with surgical removal.

Twila Shafer, of Joliet, was lucky. She caught her small cell lung cancer at an early stage last summer.

“I got really sick at the beginning of July,” Shafer said. “It was so hard to breathe. I thought I had pleurisy.”

Shafer also was extremely fatigued and sleeping more than usual – and blamed working two jobs as a vision/hearing technician and house-sitting. When doctors found the cancer, Shafer couldn’t believe it.

“I was floored,” Shafer said. “I didn’t know what to think.”

Shafer said she recently completed her last round of chemotherapy at JOHA and that she may need radiation. But Shafer added that her outlook is good; she feels good; and she is thankful for all help from family and friends these last few months.

“My family and I are closer now,” Shafer said, “so something good has come out of it.”

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IF YOU GO

WHAT: Gina Lombardi Pizza Palooza fundraiser

WHEN: 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 16

WHERE: Aurelio’s Pizza, 1505 Creek Drive, Morris

ETC: All-you-can-eat pizza and soft drink, cash bar for beer and wine, raffles for Chicago Bears tickets and other items

TICKETS: $15

DONATE: First Midwest Bank of Morris, to the Gina Lombardi Fund.

CONTACT: Aurelios Pizza at 815-941-9878

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KNOW MORE

According to the American Cancer Society, the following symptoms may suggest lung cancer

• A persistent or worsening cough

• Chest pain that worsens with deep breathing, coughing or laughing

• Hoarseness

• Weight loss and poor appetite

• Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum

• Shortness of breath

• Fatigue or weakness

• Repeated or persistent infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia

• New onset of wheezing

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