It started with an accidental image

By Neal Miller | December 21, 2017 | Blog

Someone recently asked me what it was about my job that I got the most satisfaction from. The answer was easy for me. What we are doing can positively impact the lives of patients diagnosed with cancer and it is unfortunately very difficult to find someone that hasn’t been touched by that awful disease.

One of the things we say here at HealthMyne is that every cancer patient’s story starts with an image. My mom’s cancer story started with an image, an accidental one to be precise. Her second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth stories started with images also, but none of those were accidents.

In 1987 my mom was working for the first HMO that was established in Wisconsin. When she started with them they occupied only a single floor of an office building downtown, but they grew quickly. On that day 30 years ago the HMO was having their first mammogram machine installed and they were looking for ‘guinea pigs’ in the office to help them do quality assurance on it. My mom, always wanting to be helpful, raised her hand.

The next day her doctor called her into her office...the image taken on that new piece of technology showed something and they felt they should get a closer look at it. A biopsy was completed and unfortunately our worst fears were realized. She had breast cancer. A radical mastectomy followed and imaging every 3 months started right after her recovery. Three years later, it showed up in the other breast, which meant another mastectomy, but again they felt they had caught it early so they just continued to keep an eye on her. Several years later it showed up in the scar tissue. This time they hit her with everything...radiation and chemotherapy, and continued to keep up with regular imaging after determining that she was free of cancer again.

The images kept showing spots in her lungs, what they called ground glass nodules, but they weren’t changing so the doctors felt they were not anything to worry about. Well, about 15 years ago, one of those nodules changed pretty dramatically and sure enough the biopsy said cancer again. A lobectomy took care of that, and several years later, the same thing in the other upper lobe. Even missing both upper lobes she continued to live life to the fullest, going on cruises, gambling in Vegas and joining us when we traveled to France and Switzerland. She even joined us on our trip to Israel to celebrate my oldest son’s bar mitzvah a little over three years ago.

Unfortunately, just over two years ago mom started to not feel well which eventually led to a blood test that showed her liver function was really bad. A CT showed a mass in her bile duct and large metastases in her liver. The cancer story, that started with that CT, wasn’t going to have a happy ending this time. Her Oncologist, who had been with her for many years had a hard time telling mom what the prognosis was, so mom finally just asked her, “how long do I have?” The answer, “three to six months.” Three weeks later she was gone. Way too fast, but in many ways a blessing as she didn’t suffer much. I miss her terribly to this day and still find myself wanting to call her and tell her something that happened at work or with the kids before I realizing with a jolt that that is impossible now.

That accidental image that started her cancer story 30 years ago was due to new technology at the clinic where she worked and also received her primary medical care. Her cancer story eventually had an unhappy ending, but the story lasted almost 30 years. 30 years we had with her because of that mammogram.

I have been lucky that for a good portion of my working years I have had the honor of helping develop and market new technologies that are designed to make a difference for those fighting cancer. This is why I am proud to be part of the team at HealthMyne. Our software platform will help radiologists, oncologists, pulmonologists and other clinicians who diagnose and treat patients with this horrible disease do their jobs more efficiently and with more consistency. Patients can get diagnosed faster and get on treatment faster. Studies show that is the key to higher survival rates. If we can just do that, we will make a difference in so many people’s lives.

We can do so much more though, and this is what excites me more than anything about the future of this company, the people I work with, and the technology we are developing. In the coming years, our platform will make it possible to diagnose whether a lesion is cancerous or not, tell you what kind of cancer it is, determine prognosis, and even what drug will work best...all from the image itself. It’s a science called radiomics and we are poised to be the first to put it into the workflow of clinicians. Imagine the time, money, and pain and suffering that will be saved or eliminated by not requiring invasive biopsies. How much faster will patients be able to start treatment? How many lives might be saved?

New technology kept my mom with us for 30 years that we might not have had. She got to see my sister and I graduate college and see me get married. She was able to know and spend time with her three grandchildren. She traveled and saw much of the world. I can’t help wondering if her story would have been different or would continue to be written today if the technology we are developing at HealthMyne existed. It’s impossible to say, but I look forward to the day when I hear someone tell a cancer story with a happy ending because their story started with an image that was read using our software.

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