Nonsmoker Shares Symptom That Helped Find Stage 1 Lung Cancer


When Saundra Moore experienced pain in her side, she visited her doctor, who ran tests, but everything looked normal and the pain subsided, so she forgot about it. About a year later, the pain returned – and it had intensified.

“The pain was worse,” Moore, 64, of Queens, NY, tells “In the emergency room, they were actually trying to figure out what kind of pain it was.”

After a barium CT scan, the doctors noticed two nodes on her lungs and they recommended that she see a pulmonologist. After more tests and a biopsy, Moore found out what was wrong: she had lung cancer. The former intensive care nurse was stunned – she had never smoked.

“I was very surprised. Even my pulmonologist was very surprised. He said, ‘Saundra, I look at you and you are a very healthy person,'” she recalls. “I don’t understand what the hell happened.”

A pain in her side reveals an unlikely cause

When Moore first experienced the pain in her side, she visited her doctor who ran tests. Everything came back negative and the pain went away. But when it returned a year later in 2020, it felt worse and she went to the emergency room. This time they did a CT scan with contrast medium, which showed the nodules.

“I just had this discomfort in the upper right corner of my back,” she says. “They found incidental findings, which were on my left side, not my right side, whose incidental findings showed two knots on my lower left lung.”

The emergency room doctors did not make a diagnosis, but urged her to contact a pulmonologist for more information. When the pulmonologist first saw the scans, he didn’t know what to make of the spots either.

“Actually, they weren’t sure either,” says Moore. “I was not symptomatic. I had no trouble breathing. I wasn’t coughing, I wasn’t hoarse… which were the typical symptoms, and I didn’t smoke.”

Saundra Moore was stunned when she was diagnosed with lung cancer: she had never smoked. It was caught early and she was successfully treated. (Courtesy of Saundra Moore)

She had a biopsy, which showed she had a carcinoma, and she visited a few oncologists to understand her treatment options. Some suggested more conservative approaches. She then met Dr. Raja Flores, chair of the Department of Thoracic Surgery at Mount Sinai Health System.

“He said, ‘I’m not going to look at you. I’m going to remove the lower lobe because I don’t want to come back and do something all over again,'” says Moore.

After some thought, she realized that this is what she wanted.

Moore’s nodes rested on the outer layer of the lung, and Flores used minimally invasive surgery to remove them and the lobe. She had stage 1 lung cancer, but each nodule was a different type of cancer.

“She actually had two different types of cancer in that lobe,” Flores tells “We see (two cancers at the same time) enough, but no, it’s not very common.”

At the hospital, Moore was walking to the bathroom when she passed out. Then they discovered she had developed some blood clots in her lungs, known as pulmonary embolism, which extended her hospital stay to six days. Doctors wanted to monitor her breathing and heart rate and prevent the clot from traveling to her heart or brain.

“Despite having a pulmonary embolism, my oxygen levels were still pretty good,” she said. “It took a lot out of me emotionally because I’m usually a very independent person, and for me it was depending on others to do things for me, which I didn’t like.”

Lung cancer in non-smokers

Many people think that only smokers get lung cancer, but experts say this is not true. “The main risk factor for lung cancer is having two lungs,” says Flores. “Anyone with two lungs can get lung cancer.”

While smoking and vaping increase a person’s risk of lung cancer, people who have never smoked can get the cancer. Flores says when doctors dig deeper, they usually find a likely reason, such as living with a smoker, living somewhere with high air pollution, or being exposed to asbestos or radon.

“They usually attribute it to bad luck, and I don’t think luck plays a part,” he says. “If you’ve developed lung cancer, it’s because you’ve had some exposure.”

While Moore sought help because she was experiencing pain, Flores says this isn’t a common sign of early-stage lung cancer.

“Usually if you’re in pain from lung cancer, it means it’s advanced and hers was curable,” he says. “She was probably hurting from something else.”

He adds that lung cancer symptoms also begin in later stages of cancer. But he urges people to seek help if they experience:

  • A persistent cough

  • Bleed when you cough

It is difficult to catch lung cancer at an early stage, which is why screening can be important.

“If you have a risk factor, smoking history, asbestos (exposure), you should be screened for lung cancer,” he says. “If you find it early, you can remove it with a small piece of lung and you’ll be cured.”

Recovering from surgery

It took Moore five or six months to physically recover from her surgery. Even though she’s going back to the gym — and living a more active life — she still has to remember to take it easy.

“I am always in a hurry to do things. I have to take my time slowly,” she says. “I’m trying to breathe like I normally want to breathe, so (getting back to that) took some time.”

After undergoing surgery to remove part of her lung and two cancerous nodules, Saundra Moore has returned to the gym and her more active life.  (Courtesy of Saundra Moore)

After undergoing surgery to remove part of her lung and two cancerous nodules, Saundra Moore has returned to the gym and her more active life. (Courtesy of Saundra Moore)

Struggling with the feelings she experienced took longer.

“My emotional recovery for me, I’m still trying to recover,” she says. “Last night I was crying because it hit me really suddenly.”

Moore realized the importance of taking care of herself.

“I got so caught up in taking care of everyone that I wasn’t even taking care of myself,” she says. “Pay attention to yourself. Pay attention to what is happening in your own body.”

This article was originally published on

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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