This summer, Anne Eesley got a dreaded diagnosis: stage four lung cancer that has spread to her brain.

The 72-year-old retired Spanish professor wasted no time fighting for her life.

“I’m hoping to beat it,” she said.

‘Quite a shock’

In June, Eesley went to the emergency department at Spectrum Health Reed City Hospital, close to her home in Evart, Michigan. She was suffering belly pain, which was diagnosed as diverticulitis. But the X-ray performed that day showed something even more concerning: a mass in her right lung.

Later, she’d get the news that the mass was fast-growing, non-small cell lung cancer that had metastasized to her brain.

“It was quite a shock,” Eesley said. “I didn’t respond with any emotion. I was trying to be practical and realistic, but also upbeat.”

As the summer went on, Eesley’s breathing worsened. She ended up in the emergency department again, struggling to breathe and coughing up blood.

Gustavo Cumbo-Nacheli, MD, a Spectrum Health Medical Group interventional pulmonologist, had a solution. While not a cure for her cancer, he could perform a delicate surgery that would help clear her airway, thus improving her quality of life and giving her time for more treatment.

“She was hanging by a thread,” Dr. Cumbo said. “I told her, ‘If we don’t do this, you may not have much time left.’”

Using a special scope and laser, he removed most of the tumor from Eesley’s right main air pipe and then placed stents to keep her airways open. He then opened her collapsed lungs with special balloons.

“She went from not being able to breathe, to being able to take a big breath,” Dr. Cumbo said.

In fact, he said her main trachea had been 99 percent blocked by the tumor before the procedure.

“It was a true blessing that she was able to regain control of the rest of her life, regain control of something that everyone else takes for granted—breathing,” Dr. Cumbo said.

Eesley noticed the difference immediately.

The procedure didn’t just help her to breathe better, she said, but rather “breathe, period.”

A game plan

Now, she has the strength for chemotherapy treatments one day a week and radiation five days a week.

Her oncologist, Kathrine Cooper, MD, who practices at Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center in Reed City, said she’s treating Eesley as aggressively as possible.

“She had only a few small brain metastases, which were treated with radiation. Therefore we are treating the cancer in her chest with chemotherapy and radiation together to help her feel better as quickly as possible,” Dr. Cooper said.

Eesley does her chemotherapy and radiation treatments at the center in Reed City, allowing her to keep travel time in check.

“It is a privilege to take care of her in Reed City, where patients are receiving comprehensive care close to home,” Dr. Cooper said.

‘Just extraordinary’

Eesley retired in 2010 after a career teaching Spanish in colleges including the Citadel in South Carolina, and Hillsdale College and Grand Valley State University, both in Michigan. She also taught GED to prison inmates for 11 years.

She and Dr. Cumbo, who’s from Argentina, have been known to speak a bit of Spanish together, as doctor-patient, and as friends.

Eesley enjoys the support of many friends, and the support of family, including her sisters in Ohio. She has moved out of her home to stay with friends, just a few blocks away.

“They’re wonderful people,” she said.

She enjoys hand embroidering special creations according to her own patterns, which she gives as Christmas and wedding presents.

The community at Crossroads Church in Evart, Michigan, has supported her with meals and transportation to and from her treatments.

“It’s been just fantastic. This church is known for fellowship, but this is over and above,” she said. “The whole church community has banded together to pray for me and to be useful to me. I find that just extraordinary.”

Meanwhile, she’s working hard to maintain the upbeat optimism she has had since her diagnosis.

“I haven’t given up,” she said.