On the Run For Lung Cancer

September 21, 2017
By: Julie Poucher Harbin, Writer, DCI

Lung cancer survivor Bob Wienberry volunteers in the thoracic oncology clinic at Duke Cancer Center. Since completing treatment for lung cancer nearly seven years ago, Bob Wienberry, 80, has been volunteering in the thoracic oncology clinic of Duke Cancer Center. 

On Tuesday mornings, you can find him there giving directions, pouring coffee, handing out snacks and lending a listening ear.

“You meet a lot of people here, get to know where they’re from,” said Wienberry, a High Point, North Carolina native. “Sometimes we have friends in common from back home. I can also relate to them real well because of my own cancer experience.”

Back in August 2010, doctors discovered a tennis ball-sized tumor in his lungs.

“I was surprised because I’d just run a 5K race,” said the active retiree. “I had a bad cough and figured I had pneumonia. I had no idea.”

Wienberry had been running races for years — “scaling back to 5Ks and 10Ks” after running his final marathon in 2001 at the age of 64.

Thomas D’Amico, MD, performed the surgery to remove his tumor. Jeffrey Crawford, MD, was his oncologist.

“My doctors told me that if I had been diagnosed a few years prior, they would have had to do a lot more cutting, but with the new technology I had the cancer taken out and a week later they took out my one stitch and my drain tube,” Wienberry recalled. “Advances in medicine made a huge difference.”

After surgery, followed by chemotherapy to kill any stray cells, the then-73-year-old was back on the road again.

“The first time, I went up a hill, I was out of breath,” said Wienberry. “I was discouraged.”

He decided to enroll in a Duke-based exercise study that had him bicycling three days a week, for 16 weeks, to build up his lung capacity and regain his strength. 

It was just the therapy he needed.

“I’m back in the gym five days a week,” said Wienberry, who jogs or walks two to three miles on the treadmill each time.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer in the U.S. According to the American Cancer Society, it makes up about a quarter of all new cancer diagnoses and a quarter of all cancer deaths.

Most cases — 80 percent —are caused by smoking. Lung cancer screening is typically recommended for anyone between the ages of 55 and 80 who are either current smokers or quit within the past 15 years and have at minimum 30 “pack years” or more smoking history; one pack-a-day for 30 years or two packs-a-day for 15 years.

Wienberry didn’t meet any of the early screening guidelines. He quit smoking nearly 40 years ago and said he was “never a heavy pack-a-day smoker.”

“I was a light smoker in college,” admitted Wienberry, who went on to a career in electrical equipment sales that involved a lot of travel. “When I got into sales people would say ‘let’s have a cigarette and a coffee.’ I smoked, in this way, as a social smoker, for six to eight years. Then, knowing it was bad for me, I quit.”

For non-smokers like Wienberry (85 percent of adults), the most important ways to reduce cancer risk for any cancer include maintaining a healthy body weight, being physically active on a regular basis, eating a healthy diet and limiting alcohol consumption.

This past April, Wienberry ran the Spring for Support 5K Run/Fun Walk, hosted by the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program.

“I won first place for my division; but then again, I was the only one running in my age group,” laughed Wienberry.

Duke Cancer Center offers its patients and survivors a free exercise consultation program on Mondays from 2 to 4 p.m. and Wednesdays from 8:45 to 11:30 a.m. in the patient resource center of the cancer center. Appointments for a free exercise consultation can be made by phone at 919.660.6648 or via email with one of the exercise physiologists, *Laura Bruno or Stephanie Collins

“The literature has consistently shown the importance of exercise interventions in managing cancer and treatment related symptoms and improving quality of life,” said Bruno. “No matter where the patient or survivor is on the cancer continuum, we can help.”    

Duke Cancer Institute invites patients, survivors, caregivers and supporters, to the Sept. 24 LUNGe Forward 5K run/walk, to be held on Sunday, Sept. 24, at 12:30 p.m. at Midtown Park at North Hills Mall in Raleigh, North Carolina. Presented by Duke Raleigh Hospital, the event benefits the Lung Cancer Initiative of North Carolina, and features a post-race celebration with activities for the entire family. For more information or to join the DCI team, captained by Neal Ready, MD, visit Team Duke Cancer Institute

*Since this article was published, Laura Bruno is no longer with Duke Cancer Institute. Please contact Stephanie Collins for an exercise consultation.