What I learned: 4 lessons from lung cancer survivor Hassan Shiblak
March 4, 2016 | by Letisia Marquez
Early detection of lung cancer, as with all cancers, has a profound impact on treatment and ultimate prognosis. Caught soon enough, the potential for full remission increases dramatically.
Hassan Shiblak knows this better than anyone. In late 2013, the 58-year-old Long Beach, California, resident started coughing up blood daily. He was eventually diagnosed with Stage 1 lung cancer and underwent surgery at a local hospital. Not long after, the Boeing engineer developed a painful lump in his chest and decided to visit City of Hope to get another opinion.
Marianna Koczywas, M.D., a City of Hope medical oncologist, discovered that there were cancerous cells in Hassan’s chest, and Dan J. Raz, M.D., M.A.S., co-director and surgical director of City of Hope’s Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program, performed surgery to remove the cancer.
“Dr. Raz saved my life,” said Hassan. “I have been cancer-free now for more than 20 months.”
As a lung cancer survivor, Hassan often counsels friends who have been diagnosed with cancer or know someone who has the disease. Here, he shares his insights about what he learned during that difficult time.
1. You are your own first doctor. Do not ignore your symptoms.
“Do not convince yourself that there is nothing wrong when you know better,” Hassan said. “You know your body better than anyone and need to be persistent about finding out what is causing any health problems.”
2. If you are diagnosed with cancer, seek additional opinions and treatment at a comprehensive cancer center as soon as possible.
“At City of Hope, they left no stone unturned,” Hassan said. “You will be treated as a human being, not as an insurance holder or a number.”
3. Do not let your insurance company dictate where you get treated.
Hassan said he was fortunate to have PPO insurance that’s widely accepted. But if a cancer patient doesn’t have that type of insurance, Hassan recommends remaining persistent. Call your insurance company to find out what can be done to receive a second opinion at a comprehensive cancer center, even if it means more money out of pocket. “If you need to, gather money from family and friends, or use your savings for treatment,” he said. “This is your life.” (City of Hope’s insurance specialists are also available to discuss options with patients.)
4. Do not lose hope.
“Before I went to City of Hope for treatment, I feared the worst,” Hassan said. “City of Hope’s nurses and doctors, including Sharon Clancy and Argelia Sandoval, gave me hope again, saved my life and cured me. Words cannot describe how grateful I am.”
Learn more about our Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program and our Division of Thoracic Surgery. If you are looking for a second opinion or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-HOPE. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.