When McHenry resident Tina Klasek was diagnosed with bladder cancer last year, a large mass was also found in front of her heart.
Before the expansion of Chicago-based Northwestern Medicine Canning Thoracic Institute to Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital in 2022, the 66-year-old mother of two and grandmother of six had to travel to downtown Chicago for surgery.
Instead, she was able to get the surgery at McHenry Hospital less than 10 minutes from her home, she said.
When you’re going through an illness and receiving chemotherapy, you’re constantly having doctor appointments and tests in different places, and the last thing you need is to have to travel more and make more appointments.
Despite the size of the tumor, the thoracic surgery team was able to remove it with four small incisions using a minimally invasive robotic approach, said Dr. Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery at Northwestern Medicine and director of the Canning Institute.
While the tumor was behind the sternum, there was no major cutting of muscle or bone, just incisions that were about the size of a fingerprint, Bharat said.
Fortunately, the tumor turned out to be benign, but the experience could have been worse and with a lot more added distress, which wouldn’t have been good for her health, Klasek said.
“When you’re going through an illness and getting chemotherapy, you’re constantly having doctor appointments and tests in different places, and the last thing you need is to have to travel more and make more appointments,” Klasek said.
Since the 2022 expansion, more than 50 complex chest surgeries have been performed at McHenry Hospital, according to Northwestern Medicine officials. The Canning Institute also provides diagnostic testing and treatment services for other lung and respiratory diseases.
“The goal is not only to do breast surgery, but also to provide excellent care,” Bharat said.
Being committed to a community means valuing its needs, and Bharat said there are many smokers in the county. Lung cancer doesn’t cause problems until it’s bad, Bharat said, so he strongly recommends that smokers get screened.
“One small decision can change many more years of life,” said Bharat.
He wants more people to understand that screenings can save lives and all lung and chest problems have better outcomes if caught early.
Based on data from the county’s Healthy Community Study conducted in 2021, it was estimated that 15.2 percent of adults here smoke cigarettes.
Nationally, approximately 12.5 percent of adults smoked cigarettes in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s about 30.8 million people, or almost 13 out of every 100 adults.
“You never want to be above the national average,” said Felicia Fuller of the American Lung Association.
The director of health promotion for Illinois and Wisconsin said people ages 50 to 80 should be screened for lung cancer every year. Anyone who smokes should too.
“If McHenry County has access to lung cancer screenings nearby, that’s very important,” Fuller said. “Every time you lower barriers and provide access to treatment, you can save lives.”
For many, having to leave work to travel to a doctor’s appointment or wait a long time to even make an appointment is a major barrier to medical care, Fuller said.
Returning to the game with her grandchildren and enjoying time with her husband of 46 years, Klasek said she takes comfort in knowing she has a skilled team just minutes away if she needs to reconnect.
“The entire process was smooth and despite Dr. Bharat’s busy schedule, he took the time to explain my situation to me in a professional yet understandable manner,” Klasek said. “He is so professional and as a human being he is very likable.”