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Mother's Fortuitous Broken Arm Reveals Early Lung Cancer At Most Curable Stage

LOS ANGELES (KPIX) -- On the second Sunday in May, many in the U.S. celebrate Mother's Day. The day honors motherhood, maternal bonds, and the importance and influence of mothers everywhere.

On this Mother's Day, I have another reason I'll hug my mother even tighter.

Not too long ago, I took a walk through a rose garden with my mother, Bonnie Cook, and wondered: "How often do you get to stop and smell the roses with your mom?" These days, nothing can be sweeter than spending more time with her.

From the moment I was born, I've felt her mom's unconditional love. But recently, I felt fear after getting a terrifying phone call. My mom had suffered an accident.

Outside a parking garage in downtown Los Angeles, an old tree had buckled the sidewalk, cracking and pushing up a concrete slab. As my mother walked by, her foot got caught on the slab and she tripped, hitting the sidewalk quite hard.

"It was a beautiful day and I wasn't really paying attention," she said later. "So I hit the pavement really hard and I knew at that moment that I broke my arm."

She had broke two bones in her forearm and needed surgery. That's when her story took an unexpected turn. A routine pre-op chest x-ray revealed a barely noticeable spot on her lung.

It turns out that that spot was lung cancer

But because she took that fall, the x-ray detected a lung cancer that was at the earliest, most curable stage.

"So did they ever say 'Oh my gosh! Thank God you tripped and broke your arm?'" I asked my mom.

"Absolutely," she said. "I knew in my heart, wow, whoever thought breaking your arm could be a gift. But for me, an incredible gift."

"She was very lucky," said Dr. Anthony Kim, Director of Thoracic Surgery at USC Keck Medical Center. He told me most lung cancer patients never show any symptoms.

"Most of the time lung cancer is a silent disease and by the time you start to have symptoms - not all the time - but by the time you start to have symptoms that can be a harbinger that the disease is pretty far advanced," he said.

Dr. Kim operated on my mom and took out a part of her lung that contained a marble-sized tumor. She won't need radiation or chemotherapy and her prognosis is good.

"Right now, we have no reason to believe that she will have a recurrence, but, you know - knock on wood," said Dr. Kim.

Knock on wood indeed. "More women die of lung cancer then die of breast cancer." explained Dr. Jorge Nieva, medical oncologist at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women and there is no easy, inexpensive way to screen for it. "We can't screen lung cancer with blood tests," said Dr. Nieva.

What's more surprising is that while smoking is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer, my mom doesn't smoke. In fact, she has never picked up a cigarette.

"When the doctor came in and told me they found a spot on my lung, I was - I couldn't believe it. I was, like 'no, that can't possibly be me,'" she said.

Unfortunately, her story is not that unusual. "We see a lot of the nonsmokers with cancers happen to be women." said Dr. Nieva. There are many theories about why this is including genetic, social, and environmental. Statistics show one in 6 women with lung cancer never smoked.

My mom will be followed closely for a few years with regular checkups. She plans to spend more time with her first grandchild, my son Beau.

On this Mother's Day, that makes all us Cooks breathe a little easier.

Not everyone has such good fortune to take a bad fall and get an early diagnosis. The American Cancer Society recommends tests to check for lung cancer in people who are at high risk for lung cancer due to cigarette smoking.

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