When David I. Sternberg, M.D. a thoracic surgeon at Botsford Hospital, treats a patient with lung cancer, his compassion is tangible. "As a kid with asthma, I grew up being acutely aware of what it was like to be breathless," he says. As a medical student, that awareness led him to identify with patients struggling with lung problems, and he committed himself to treating them. " I feel like these are my people, and they deserve my best efforts," he says.
Quality of life: an important measure
His commitment helped him become an expert in lung cancer surgery. But there was more to learn. "When I first started, I thought my job was to keep patients alive after diagnosis," he says. “As I got to know the patients, I realized that my job also included restoring some normalcy to their lives."
That's when Dr. Sternberg began to champion minimally invasive surgical techniques for lung cancer patients. With these techniques, patients have smaller incisions, less pain, shorter hospital stays, and quicker recoveries.
"In the past, surgeons felt that since patients were in a fight for their lives, these other issues weren't as important," Dr. Sternberg says. "But I believe that quality of life is always worthy of consideration."
Dr. Sternberg has committed to expanding the minimally invasive thoracic surgery program at Botsford. He also personally runs a support group for lung cancer patients, who often lack such services. "Because lung cancer may be the result of smoking, people tend to blame, rather than help, the patients," he says.
Screening: an important step
Unfortunately, concerns about blame and shame might also stop smokers from getting a lung cancer screening. But Dr. Sternberg strongly advises those at risk to have a CT scan. It's important because that scan may find a problem before it develops into cancer--or find cancer at its earliest stage, when it is easiest to treat. And that's where Dr. Sternberg's commitment lies. "Helping people with lung problems is the reason I go to work in the morning," he says.
Lung Cancer Support meets on the third Monday of the month from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Botsford Cancer Center, Suite 230. For information, call (248) 471-8120.