Earlene Taylor is always looking for a new adventure. Whether it's hiking the Andes, bicycling through Vietnam or climbing to base camp on Mount Everest, she's been there, done that, and is ready for more.
Not even cancer can slow her down.
For Earlene, cancer first reared its ugly head in 1979 as a malignant lump in her breast. The disease recurred as metastatic cancer in 1981. Earlene fought back with help from what she calls "the best physicians in the world" at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where she and her husband regularly drove from their Iowa home for treatment.
After the cancer went into remission, Earlene's husband retired and the couple relocated to San Francisco. There, Earlene began seeing a local oncologist for follow-up care.
In late 2006, Earlene's physician recommended a routine CT scan, which revealed a small lesion in Earlene's right lung. Her physician did not think the lesion was serious and recommended checking it in three months.
But Earlene was wary. She took a copy of her CT scan to a radiologist friend at another medical center, who told Earlene that he found the lesion suspicious despite its small size. "If you were my wife, I would insist you have a biopsy," he said.
Earlene's husband agreed. "Get yourself to Mayo Clinic," he insisted.
Soon after, Earlene flew to Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., for a consultation with thoracic surgeon Dawn Jaroszewski, M.D. "I walked in with my CT scans in hand," Earlene recalls. "Dr. Jaroszewski arranged for a battery of specialized tests that morning, and sat down with me again that afternoon."
Earlene's cancer history was uppermost in Dr. Jaroszewski's mind as they discussed the test results. "With this lung lesion, you might live your whole life without it becoming a problem," she said. "But it could get bigger and spread. So we really need to do a biopsy."
Earlene went home to San Francisco, and five days later returned for the biopsy. The result? The lesion was malignant. Dr. Jaroszewski surgically removed the lesion along with the upper lobe of Earlene's right lung.
"When I woke up from surgery, Dr. Jaroszewski was there in my room," Earlene recalls. "She told me, 'I'll see you through this, Earlene. I'm not turning you over to anyone else.'"
Today, Earlene still receives her care from physicians at Mayo Clinic in Arizona. "They're so efficient," she says appreciatively. "I fly from California in the morning, get my medical exams done, review the results with my doctors that afternoon, and fly home that night. Everything's done in one day."
The lung resection left Earlene with about 30 percent of her previous breathing capacity. "I used to love climbing, hiking and biking. I've just switched the type of adventures I undertake," she says. Recently, Earlene traveled with friends to explore the glaciers of Iceland, the pyramids of Egypt and the deserts of the Middle East.
"This cancer stuff is not going to get the best of me," Earlene says with determination. Explaining why she maintains her active lifestyle, she says, "You can't hit a moving target!"
"But in truth," says Earlene, "I'm alive today because of Mayo Clinic."