LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- Having a heart attack can be a terrifying experience. After all, heart disease is of the leading causes of death in the U.S. But for one Arkansas woman, a heart attack possibly saved her life.
It was two days after Christmas, and everything was going well.
"I was doing really good. I didn't think I was sick or anything," says Anna Harris
But then, Harris' husband had to rush her to a Searcy hospital. She remembers it clearly. It was 5:30 in the morning. She was having a heart attack.
"I know it seems silly, but I kind of laughed it off," Harris recalls.
But it didn't last long. More tests revealed something else.
"The next day they came in and told me that I had a nodule on my lung that I needed to have checked out, and it went from there," she says.
That nodule was the beginning of lung cancer. "And that became the scare. Yea, it was the cancer that worried me the most. I was scared. I was so scared because my dad died of cancer. So it runs in my family," says Harris. "I didn't think I was going to make it through to tell you the truth. I thought, 'This is it. I'm done.'"
Doctors told her lung cancer, especially at the beginning, when it's most treatable, can be very difficult to detect. There are no real symptoms. Her heart attack potentially saved her life.
"Lung cancer is a devastating disease for many reasons. One of them is the lung tissue has no feeling," says UAMS Dr. Thaddeus Bartter. "So if you develop a cancer in your lung tissue - and its not causing you to cough or it's not causing you chest pain - you don't feel it until it's grown."
Harris was referred to Dr. Bartter at UAMS, for treatment. "If Anna had come in 6 months later, it's very likely her disease would have been widespread," Dr. Bartter says.
In Harris' case, the cancer hadn't gone into her lung yet - which is good. But she was still afraid of the fight.
"I said I'm not going to go through this. And I said it when daddy died," she remembers.
But not only did she later decide she was ready to fight, she's decided it's a battle she's going to win. Harris had surgery and is now undergoing chemotherapy.
"Because I'm gonna see my kids, I'm gonna see my grandbabies." After all, heart disease is of the leading causes of death in the U.S.
Harris' journey isn't over, but everything we're told looks great.
She has just a short time of chemotherapy left, and she hopes to be cancer free.
Dr. Bartter says how they found her cancer is unusual in a way, but in a way it's not. Harris' cancer was small cell - which typically isn't found until it's very widespread. But he says at some point, they usually diagnose lung cancer, when they're looking for something else - after you've gone to the doctor for something like trouble breathing or back pain.
The five-year survival rate of people diagnosed with stage one lung cancer is 90 percent. But once it's to stage four, the survival rate is only about five percent. The average five-year survival rate is 15 percent.