Georgia siblings both hit by lung cancer at 63

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Jennifer Kenney of Fayetteville, Georgia, remembers hearing the news 2 and a half years ago that stopped her in her tracks.

"I was in disbelief,” the 63-year old payroll manager says.  “I just could not believe it. 

Her brother Phil Jackson, who was also 63 at the time, and had never smoked, was diagnosed with lung cancer.

"He's the healthiest one in the family,” Kenney remembers. “He watches his diet and runs."

Kenney says their mother had smoked, and had been diagnosed with lung cancer years before she died of an unrelated illness.

Her brother Phil had surgery, and Kenney says, for 2 years had no evidence of cancer.

“This summer, we found out it had come back,” Kenney says.  “It had spread. It was up in his shoulder and his lung in two places."

They got the news in July.

"And, then, about a week later, I clearly heard God tell me, 'Get yourself checked.'” Kenney says.

She was already scheduled to see Dr. Christine Long, her internist and lead physician at Piedmont Physicians Group in Peachtree City, about an upcoming eye surgery.

So, Kenney asked Dr. Long if she should get screened for lung cancer, even though she'd never smoked either.

"I think the timing was important for her, that she had just heard of the recurrence. and then had the visit with me for an unrelated issue,” Long says.  “But, really, just the fact that her brother and her mother both had lung cancer was significant enough to get screened."

A few days after her lung CT scan, Kenney got a phone call.

She, too, had a nodule in her left lung.

“By August 8th, I knew I had lung cancer, the same as Phil,” Kenney says.  “At the same age. So, you know, it was like, 'What's going on here?’"

Smoking, including exposure to secondhand smoke, is the leading cause of lung cancers.

Still, about 10 -15% of lung cancers are diagnosed in people who’ve never smoked.

Other causes include exposure to radon gas, asbestos and other workplace carcinogens.

Kenney doesn't know why both she and her brother diagnosed at the same age.

She believes the cancer could run in the family, and their exposure to secondhand smoke growing up might also be to blame.

Because her cancer was caught early, she underwent surgery to remove the mass and the lower part of her left lung.

But, she was able to avoid chemotherapy and radiation.

“I’m blessed,” Kenney says.  “There is no luck to it. I'm blessed.  God blessed me.”