care she needed at Rutgers cancer institute of New Jersey. condit’s cancer was discovered when she had a chest X-ray as a part of a pre-operative checkup for elective hernia surgery. She developed a slight cough and asked her doctor to postpone the surgery. “He said my problem was much more serious than a hernia,” she says. “i had a mass in my left lung.” He referred her to a pulmonologist, who agreed the mass looked suspicious. A biopsy was performed and condit waited anxiously for the news. The results confirmed everyone’s worst fears: she had lung cancer. “Thank goodness i had that X-ray,” says condit. “i had no symptoms, so i never would’ve seen a doctor until it was too late. Having cancer was a shock, almost surreal. But i consider myself lucky. i had an early diagnosis, which improves my chances for recovery. And i was referred to Rutgers cancer institute. They gave me great care and their expertise saved my life.” condit was treated by Todd Demmy, mD, FAcS, a leader in minimally invasive surgery for treatment of thoracic cancers, who is part of the Lung cancer/Thoracic Oncology Program at Rutgers cancer institute and a professor of surgery at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson medical School. He is known for his work in video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS), a less invasive procedure used to remove tumors in the chest, esophagus, and lungs. This surgery is done through three or four small incisions. This complex operation involves removal of a lung, part of the diaphragm, the heart lining and lymph nodes. it’s used to treat patients with mesothelioma, the deadly asbestos-related cancer. in contrast, the traditional approach, thoracotomy, requires a 10 to 15 centimeter incision, opening the chest and cutting through muscle to gain access to the lungs. many people are not aware that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. and worldwide. it kills more women each year than breast cancer, according to the American cancer Society. condit had smoked for years, but was a light smoker having smoked just four or five cigarettes a day. There is no way of knowing if smoking caused her cancer. However, research shows that smoking contributes to 80 percent of lung cancer deaths. While the VATS technique is not new, it’s taken more time to catch on than other minimally invasive procedures. VATS requires a great deal of training and technical skill, both to do the procedure and avoid complications, including excessive bleeding and the risk of incomplete lymph node resection, which could result in the cancer’s spread. For these reasons, VATS remains in the domain of large academic centers, like Rutgers cancer institute and its flagship hospital Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJ) that specialize in cutting-edge cancer therapies. VATS offers several advantages to patients, the main one being much less postoperative pain, because the surgeon does not have to open the chest. Patients undergoing traditional open surgery have debilitating pain that can last for months. Other advantages of VATS include a shorter hospital stay and recovery time. in its early iteration VATS was considered a good option for patients who were otherwise healthy and strong, but that thinking has evolved. Done by skilled surgeons, it is an excellent option for high-risk patients such as those with weak hearts or lungs. in weaker patients, openchest surgery often triggers a chain of events that leads to their decline. A minimally invasive procedure may significantly improve their odds. condit remembers her first consultation as a “blur,” due to her anxiety. But she did hear the most important news: she was a candidate for VATS. Overall she was healthy and had good lung function, measured before surgery to be sure a patient can tolerate the removal of W ith much of her life focused on helping others, condit herself needed help when she was diagnosed with stage ii lung cancer in August 2015. She got the expert 22 I Cancer Connection I Autumn 2016 P HOTO By: N ick ROmAN eN kO