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A Long-Running Inspiration:

Marathoner beats lung cancer with help of his AMH family

On December 26, 2009, 69-year-old John Heary began coughing up blood. He and his wife, Carolyn, immediately sought help from their Abington Memorial Hospital family physician. What followed was a whirlwind of tests to pinpoint the exact cause. The news was devastating: lung cancer. John had never even smoked. “We had so many questions – where to start and how to best fight this disease,” John recalls.

John Heary

Fortunately for the longtime marathoner, this race was now being coordinated by The Rosenfeld Cancer Center’s Lung Cancer Nurse Navigator Kelly Pressler, R.N. Because treatment options for lung cancer patients are so individualized, Pressler helps coordinate all aspects of their care.

John says, “Kelly met us at the front door and worked her cell phone while she walked with us from department to department gathering my medical records and scheduling appointments and tests. She’s phenomenal – caring, compassionate and knowledgeable – just the first of all the people who made us feel we had come to the right place.

“The whole setup at The Rosenfeld Cancer Center is amazing – we met with Dr. Andrews (Medical Oncologist Willard G. Andrews, III, M.D.) and Kelly even sat in. Dr. Andrews discussed the alternatives and he and Kelly consulted with us about the decisions we needed to make. My whole family has high praise for the entire team.”

Dr. Andrews explains, “John was diagnosed with a large tumor on the upper left lobe of his lung. We recommended surgery right away.“

On March 29, 2010, Abington Oncologic Surgeon Ho Pak, M.D. removed the tumor and a good part of John’s left lung. Fortunately, it was determined that the cancer hadn’t spread to any lymph nodes. To ensure the most favorable treatment, Dr. Andrews and members of the lung cancer evaluation service team recommended a regimen of chemotherapy and radiation that John continued through the summer of 2010.

The combination therapy represented one of his biggest challenges. But the man who’s competed in more than 20 marathons – in New York, Bermuda, and Boston – (including the 100th running of the Boston Marathon dedicated to his son Jeff, serving in Bosnia, and his late son, Brendan, whom the Hearys lost in an auto accident) – is all about setting goals.

“I believe I was motivated by getting back to running, but I was even more motivated by the positive outlook I received from every member of the Abington Memorial Hospital staff,” John adds. “Everyone knows their stuff, from Doctors Andrews and Pak to the chemotherapy nurses. They’re all just so professional and encouraging. You need that confidence as a patient.”

His ordeal has not kept him down. He and Carolyn continue their longtime work with the Montgomery County Special Olympics.

The one-year anniversary of his surgery was March 29, 2011. To celebrate his recovery, John ran with daughters Linda and Karen, daughter-in-law Molly and son Jeff in the inaugural Phillies 5K for Charity on Saturday, March 26, 2011. His older grandchildren joined him, too, representing three generations celebrating John’s major comeback.

Indeed, the road ahead looks terrific. “I am cancer-free,” John, now 70, says. “I’m just so thankful to God and my wife, Carolyn, to whom I’ve been married for 49 years.”

For more information about The Rosenfeld Cancer Center and its programs and physicians, call 800-405-HELP (4357).

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