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Keeping Faith: A Woman Thrives beyond her Cancer Diagnosis

Faiths tumor was early stage cancer, the experience transformed her life.
Faith Scruggs sits in front of the Moakley Building, which houses BMC’s
state-of-the-art cancer care facility. Faith had little hope when she was
diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008. But through her treatments at BMC,
she gained a new outlook on life.

Faith Scruggs received a life-changing phone call at her Brighton home in late November 2008. X-rays taken in preparation for a scheduled surgery had returned with some unpredicted results. At Boston Medical Center, Faith listened as doctors told her that a pea-sized shadow found on one of her scans was evidence of lung cancer. Despite reassurances that treatment was possible, Faith was inconsolable.

“I just remember them saying there is a window open and I thought how can they tell me that there is a window open. I said that’s what doctors told my sister just a year before when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She went into the hospital on December 19 and died December 23,” recounted Faith in a gravelly voice.

Still deeply wounded by the loss of her sister, Faith was reluctant to pursue her own treatment. She credits her primary care physician for encouraging her to move forward and find answers. Faith returned to BMC’s Center for Thoracic Oncology to discuss her options with Michael Ebright, MD. Dr. Ebright was able to confirm Faith’s diagnosis through a needle biopsy, and he began a series of tests to identify her best options for treatment.

“All evidence indicated that Faith’s tumor was discovered at an early stage. The optimal treatment for an early-stage lung cancer is surgery, but Faith’s exceedingly poor lung function rendered her inoperable. By the same token, conventional radiation therapy would have caused intolerable loss of lung capacity. We considered image-guided radiofrequency ablation, yet the tumor was too close to a major artery,” he said.

But there was still hope.

Dr. Ebright teamed with Gregory Russo, MD, of BMC’s Radiation Oncology Department. Faith was a candidate for a new clinical trial utilizing BMC’s CyberKnife system, which emits multiple beams of high-dose radiation so precisely that it can eliminate tumors without risk to the surrounding tissue. The process would allow Faith to preserve as much healthy lung tissue as possible.

Three months after her treatment, Drs. Russo and Ebright could no longer identify a tumor on Faith’s lung on her CT and PET scans. She would need to be closely monitored for a recurrence, however.

“At six months, Faith’s PET scans showed evidence of suspected cancer in a regional lymph node. It was very concerning to us and indicated that the cancer had probably spread undetected before the initial Cyberknife treatment began,” said Dr. Russo.

Faith underwent an endobronchial ultrasound to confirm the recurrence. This new technology allowed Dr. Ebright to biopsy lymph nodes deep within her chest without the need for an incision. Dr. Russo then collaborated closely with Ken Zaner, MD, PhD, MBA, to aggressively treat the new cancer with a six-week course of chemotherapy and radiation. Throughout her ordeal, Faith remained comforted by BMC’s doctors and staff.

“I have a lot of confidence in the doctors and staff at Boston Medical Center because they treat you just like you’re family. . .they come to your check up and ask you how you are feeling and how you are healing. They ask if you need anything, and they listen. I wouldn’t have it any other way. They keep you staying positive, they really do. I love them all,” she said.

The follow-up treatment proved to be extremely effective. “Faith’s outcome is remarkable. A year after her treatment there is still no evidence of active cancer,” said Dr. Russo.

For Faith, her experience with cancer was transformative. When her grandson offered to pay for her to travel to St. Lucia to attend his wedding last June, she was extremely anxious to take a plane ride outside of the United States.

“I didn’t want to fly, I didn’t want to go. I was so frightened, but I thought if I can get through my cancer treatment, I can get on this plane, and I did,” explained Faith “It was just so amazing to see things that I didn’t think I would ever see. Hummingbirds would fly right in front of my little bungalow. It was so beautiful.”

Today, Faith continues to be closely monitored by her doctors at BMC to make sure her cancer stays in remission. Reflecting on all she has been through, she is happy she chose to be treated. “I see people in the waiting room, and I can tell by their faces that they have just received a bad diagnosis and don’t know what the next step will be. Now I lean over and tell them to keep positive,” she said with a smile.