Unexpected cancer diagnosis leads 37-year-old woman to BSA Harrington Cancer Center

When Julia Bennett began experiencing shoulder pain in April 2018, the 37-year-old never imagined it would lead to a life-threatening diagnosis.

“I started having pain and numbness in my shoulder that would go down my arm,” Bennett said. “I wasn’t sure where it was coming from.”

Bennett saw doctors, chiropractors and physical therapists to try to find the cause of her pain and still had no answers.

In September, Bennett started experiencing respiratory issues and was diagnosed with pneumonia. Not responding to antibiotics, her health plummeted over the course of three months.

“I lost more than 30 pounds and I was weak,” Bennett said. “I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t function.”

At the recommendation of her nurse practitioner, Bennett had a CT scan performed. The results unexpectedly showed a large mass on Bennett’s right lung.

Within a week, Bennett saw a cardiothoracic surgeon, who prompted her to see a pulmonologist immediately and get a biopsy.

Following her biopsy on December 20, Bennett received the unexpected news that she was now fighting for her life.

“Cancer was never on anyone’s radar,” Bennett said. “I was 37, I had three young boys and it kind of came out of left field. I have never smoked or been around anyone that smoked.”

“Genetically speaking, a part of me knew it was a matter of time. All four of my grandparents have had some form of cancer and my mother was diagnosed in 2016 with two different types of breast cancer.”

Bennett’s first step was to get a second opinion at MD Anderson in February 2019, where she was officially diagnosed with Stage 3 Neuroendocrine Carcinoma of the lung.

“The pulmonary branch of my right lung was squeezed down to a pinhole,” Bennett shared. “The right side of my lung was not working at all because the tumor pressed it down so much that there was no air moving out of that lung.”

Surgery was not an option for Bennett due to the location of the tumor. When considering treatment options, Bennett knew she wanted to be treated at BSA Harrington Cancer Center because she had a history with the care team there.

“My mother and two of my grandparents were treated at BSA Harrington Cancer Center. I had spent a lot of time there attending appointments, treatments and getting to know the doctors.”

“I liked their style,” Bennett said, from her experience working with Dr. Ravipati and Dr. Arsenault on her mother’s treatment plan. “I liked their track record and I especially liked working with them with my mom who also had a unique diagnosis. They are very smart, caring doctors.”

Bennett underwent six weeks of daily radiation and four rounds of chemotherapy. After completing her first treatment, Bennett was already seeing improvements in her health.

“It was that fast,” Bennett said. “The pain I had been experiencing for months was gone. The very next day I was off pain medication and have been ever since.”

Bennett completed treatments on May 1, 2019. After a repeat PET scan and brain MRI, Bennett showed no signs of cancer and continues to remain cancer free.

Looking back, Bennett is appreciative of the support she received from her community and the BSA staff she encountered throughout her journey.

“I live in a wonderful community that rallied behind me and drove me to treatments, brought us food and made sure my boys were cared for,” Bennett said.

“I’m thankful for the people that were put in my path, and I believe God led me to the people that I needed to see,” said Bennett. “I really trust my team in Amarillo. I am getting CTs and brain MRIs every three months because we don’t know what this type of cancer is going to do."

According to Bennett, BSA Harrington Cancer Center provides the highest quality of care for patients and their families.

“I’m thankful we have these options here at home and don’t have to travel to get this good of a treatment,” Bennett said. “It would’ve been a whole lot harder to heal and get through if I needed to stay down in Houston. I don’t know if the outcome would’ve been as successful.”

As she continues to recover, Bennett is finding her new normal. “I still don’t have the energy that I had before,” Bennett said. “There is no pain and I feel great, it’s just a matter of building back up my stamina and energy, which takes time.”

Bennett encourages women to feel empowered to talk to their physicians about their concern for cancer and their family’s medical history.

“I really do feel blessed to have found it this young. I feel like this cancer saved my life because I will be monitored for the rest of my life.”

Talk to your doctor if you feel you are at risk for lung cancer. For more information on lung cancer screenings available at BSA Harrington Cancer Center, please call 806-212-LUNG (5864).