Cao Buu, 72, enjoys eating nutritious food, going on long walks, playing golf and riding his bike. He values his well-being, time with family and life’s precious moments.
Though Buu now enjoys a healthy lifestyle, his life-altering journey began in December 2018 when he started experiencing recurring flu-like symptoms every two weeks. His symptoms — fever, chills, muscle aches and fatigue — persisted for several days before subsiding. Thinking his persistent symptoms were just signs of old age, Buu lived with this cycle for months until his family noticed a pattern.
“I thought I was fine and that my symptoms were normal for someone my age,” says Buu. “But after months, my daughter, Tawnie, urged me to see a doctor.”
As a physician assistant at MemorialCare Medical Group - Long Beach, Tawnie knew that her father would receive exceptional care through MemorialCare’s network of physicians and health centers. In February 2019, Buu was seen at MemorialCare Medical Group - Long Beach, where he received chest X-rays that showed signs of a lung opacity — an area of the lung tissue that appeared unclear and gray.
Buu was given antibiotics to treat the lung opacity, however a follow-up chest X-ray revealed that his lungs didn’t improve. Buu’s primary care physician then referred him to board-certified pulmonologist Thomas Jiang, M.D.
Dr. Jiang performed a computerized tomography (CT) scan to understand Buu’s lung opacity. The scan revealed that Buu had a mass in the right upper lobe of his lung. In order to diagnose Buu, Dr. Jiang conducted a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, which is commonly used to clarify an abnormal CT scan. He also performed an endobronchial ultrasound bronchoscopy (EBUS), which is a minimally invasive procedure that involves the insertion of a flexible tube into the mouth and down to the lungs. The procedure collects images of the lungs and sample cells, which are then biopsied.
The biopsy and scan results confirmed that the mass was stage 3 squamous cell carcinoma, a type of lung cancer that occurs when abnormal cells form a tumor and cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes.
Buu quickly began working with board-certified medical oncologist Nilesh Vora, M.D. at the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Medical Center to determine the best course of treatment. The MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute provides patients comprehensive cancer care using a multi-disciplinary approach, innovative treatment options and supportive programs.
In April 2019, Buu started undergoing rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. Chemotherapy works by slowing or stopping the duplication of cancer cells, while radiation destroys the genetic material within cancer cells. Both treatment options are considered the standard of care in stage three lung cancer treatment, as each option prevents the growth and spread of cancer cells in the body.
In addition to his standard treatment, Buu also incorporated healthy changes into his daily life. “After my diagnosis, I was motivated to fight the cancer,” says Buu. “I made new lifestyle choices, including changing my diet and physical activity.”
After two months of continuous chemotherapy and radiation, a scan revealed that the mass in Buu’s lung had significantly decreased. In June 2019, Dr. Vora recommended Buu start a year of immunotherapy based on a recent trial that showed that immunotherapy is effective in patients with stage 3 lung cancer.
Immunotherapy is the latest breakthrough in the standard of care for cancer treatment. It’s considered a biological therapy, which stimulates the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells. Immunotherapy works by boosting parts of the immune system to recognize, target and attack cancer cells.
“Buu received IMFINZI®, a new type of immunotherapy that includes a bi-weekly infusion of proteins that trigger the immune system and white blood cells,” says Dr. Vora. “Cancer cells are attacked by the immune system with few side effects.”
After two months of immunotherapy, the mass in Buu’s lung continued to shrink. In April 2020, the promising results of immunotherapy were clear – Buu’s PET scan revealed he was cancer free. Buu has since finished his immunotherapy and to ensure his cancer doesn’t return, he receives CT scans every three months.
“I’m thankful for Dr. Vora and the teams at Long Beach Medical Center,” says Buu. “Knowing I have their support, I’m able to continue spending time with my family and live my life to the fullest.”