Lung cancer patient: “IU Health saved my life”

Rich Emmons credits IU Health and a simple cost-effective scan with saving his life.

He’s semi-retired and the insurance didn’t quite cover the cost of his lung scan, so Rich Emmons thought he’d have to skip it. That is until he learned that IU Health offers the screenings for $49.

“It was dumb luck that I fell upon a sign in the hospital promoting the screenings,” said Emmons, of Markle – a town that spans both Huntington and Wells Counties along Interstate 69. The majority of his career was spent working in international transportation with the Fort Wayne Airport. Before he retired in 2016, Emmons’ wife reminded him to get caught up on all his health care – that included a lung screening. The scan came out clear but he was encouraged to continue with the annual screening.

Since his retirement, Emmons has been driving a bus transporting residents from various nursing homes to area hospitals. He just happened to be at IU Health Ball Memorial when he saw the sign promoting the $49 screening.

“I’m on my wife’s insurance and our out-of-pocket would have been about $300. So I went for the $49 screening and had results sent to my doctor,” said Emmons, who turned 61 this month. “I was immediately put in touch with an oncologist. They did a biopsy and I was diagnosed with stage 3A lung cancer.”

Emmons has been a smoker since the age of 12. “There’s no question it was caused by smoking. I’m not proud of that at all,” said Emmons. “I’ve never tried to quit smoking. I didn’t want to ever quit. I’m from a generation of the late 60s and early 70s where that’s just what you did in your teen years. It didn’t become an issue. I can remember watching Johnny Carson Shows and they were all smoking. By the time people started making it a big deal I felt that what damage was done was done.”

The $49 lung screenings are part of a campaign to advocate for patient health. Smoking-related illnesses claim more than 11,000 Indiana residents each year and tobacco use results in well over $7 billion in health costs annually. As the state’s largest healthcare system, IU Health is committed to reducing the number of people who smoke and dissuading others from starting. So IU Health joins the statewide campaign against tobacco use, including the effort to increase cigarette tax to $2 a pack. Increasing the price of cigarettes has proven to deter smoking especially among youths. The campaign against smoking promotes reduced incidents of cancer, pulmonary disease, infant mortality, and other health-related issues.

Emmons’ diagnosis was a wake up call. “As soon as we found out I had cancer, the first doctor I saw was a pulmonary doctor who put me on Chantix, a prescription medicine to help me stop smoking,” said Emmons. “It does really well. I went from two and half packs of cigarettes a day to three cigarettes a day and now I still smoke one or two a day but that’s it. I see that going away. I don’t crave it.”

He says he’s doing it for his family. He has been married to Suzette for 36 years. Together they have one son, one daughter and a two-year-old grandson. “My wife and daughter were devastated when we found out I had cancer. I’m the rock of the family. This isn’t supposed to happen to me,” said Emmons.

The biopsy showed the small cell cancer was in the upper right lobe of his lung and had attached itself to the chest wall. According to the American Cancer Society smoking is a leading cause of lung cancer. Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) accounts for about 10-15% of lung cancers, and the majority are related to cigarette smoking. Small Cell Lung Cancer can metastasize rapidly and spread to other parts of the body.

Since Emmons’ diagnosis in August, he went through 30 rounds of radiation and recently completed his final round of chemotherapy.  He will have another scan this month.

“They feel pretty confident they killed it and the chances of it coming back are 50/50. The next step will be to begin prophylactic radiation on my brain to prevent spreading,” said Emmons.

“I feel very, very fortunate. I’m not completely out of the woods but that little sign at IU Health saved my life. My doctor said without treatment I may have been gone in six months. I want to be around to watch my grandson grow up.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email