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Skeptical Patient Convinced: Lung Cancer Screening Saves Lives

Ted Papoutsakis riding his bikeTeddy Papoutsakis is a tough individual, and a man not averse to risk. If you don’t believe it, just follow him and observe some of his hobbies, which include extreme mountain biking. His proudest bike moment: riding mountain bikes at 6 pm in complete darkness amidst chilling temperatures.  

It’s no surprise then that he wasn’t too keen on taking time out of work to get a lung cancer screening, particularly because he wasn’t experiencing any negative symptoms. But he fit the criteria for screening eligibility as he is over age 55 and had smoked at least a pack a day for decades, and his primary care physician, Dr. Andrew Fay from Baystate South Hadley Adult Medicine, pleaded with him to get it done.  

“My primary care doctor was always trying to sign me up for a lung cancer screening program,” says Papoutsakis. “Honestly, I was going to blow it off. But they said they could do it on a weekend and it didn’t cost anything [with my insurance] so my two objections were overcome and I went in for the screening.”  

One week later, Fay called him and asked that he come into the office to review something that was found on the lung cancer screening. After the visit, he had a second scan, which yet again showed a concerning blemish on his lung.  

Early Stage Lung Cancer

Papoutsakis wasted no time. “I said okay let’s get this ball rolling and get this thing out of there,” he said. “It was early stage lung cancer.”  

Dr. Elena Ziarnik, a Baystate thoracic surgeon, performed the surgery. “His diagnosis was adenocarcinoma. I performed a video-assisted thoracoscopic wedge resection, followed by a completion lobectomy and lymphadenectomy, all at once,” Ziarnik said. “Surgery is considered curative for early stage tumors.”  

Papoutsakis is grateful to Fay for his persistence, and is relieved that he did not give in to the temptation to skip the screening, knowing that if he had waited, the cancer could have grown and spread without symptoms presenting for many years.  

“Otherwise, I would be saying I feel fine, but I could have had stage 4 cancer,” he said. “I’m one of the guys who was skeptical and I had it done!”    

“Catching lung cancer as early as possible gives a higher likelihood of cure from either surgery alone, or surgery combined with chemo and radiation therapies,” Ziarnik said. “Ted was asymptomatic. If he had not undergone screening, the lung cancer would have continued to grow and potentially spread even farther. With screening, we are able to detect lung cancer earlier than if we only saw patients who had symptoms.”  

More Hurdles

Shortly after his lung surgery, Papoutsakis was discomforted by a hernia and needed to have another surgery. Yet again, the procedure, performed by Dr. Jacqueline Wu, was successful.  

But Papoutsakis wasn’t done yet. “About three or four weeks after recovering from the hernia operation, I suddenly started forgetting passwords to my computer. I called Dr. Fay and got an appointment the next day.”  

He recalls, “He said ‘I know you and I know something is going really wrong.' He called the ED and asked that they admit me right away. Four days later they were removing a tumor from my brain.”  

Baystate neurosurgeon Dr.  Robert Schapiro was able to successfully remove the brain tumor, and started Papoutsakis on chemotherapy and radiation to ensure that the cancer had not spread elsewhere.  

Three Surgeries, Three Successes

Ted Papoutsakis with his bike“I never felt like I was going to die — never. I just think they are first rate,” Papoutsakis said about his experiences at Baystate Medical Center. “Food was fantastic. The nurses every time I was in the hospital were sweethearts. They really made recovery great.”  

"I don’t know how it could have gone any better with me at Baystate.”  Ted Papoutsakis

So great that Papoutsakis was back up and mountain biking by mid-August, less than five months after the first lung screening. He recently enjoyed Thanksgiving with his wife, three kids, and extended family. Papoutsakis is happy he can appreciate life’s little moments, and will continue to see his oncologist at the Baystate Regional Cancer Program, Dr. John McCann, for follow up monitoring.  

“I feel really good," he said.  "Because I mountain bike, my lungs feel great. I still mountain bike twice a week. I think regardless of how wise you are, after you get cancer there is another drop of wisdom that you can put in your bucket.”  

Words of Wisdom

Papoutsakis is optimistic his cancer is behind him, but he knows he came perilously close to a much worse outcome. He now tells other self-described “difficult patients” to listen to their doctors and undergo a lung cancer screening if it is suggested.  

“Big time I recommend it,” he said. “You go in and it’s like 15 minutes. It’s easy. I don’t know how it could have gone any better with me at Baystate.”