Maxine Koutnekoff

I was 11 years old when I started smoking. Almost everyone smoked back in the sixties – we simply didn’t know any better. For the next 30 years, I smoked a couple packs a day. When I was raising my children I would sometimes have two cigarettes on the go at the same time – one in the kitchen and one in another part of the house.

Did you continue to smoke?

By the nineties, the attitude toward smoking had changed. We all knew about health risks. I wasn’t sure I could quit, but when Dad died of cancer, I felt it was time I tried. My sisters were always after me to quit. My husband quit and that encouraged me to as well. It wasn’t easy, but I’ll never forget that on November 19, 1999, I smoked my last cigarette.

Did you take part in a lung research study?

About six months after I quit smoking some 15 years ago, I was sitting in my doctor’s office and saw a poster about a clinical study for screening ex-smokers for lung disease. I took down the number and a couple of days later I called.

It turned out I qualified as a candidate for the study and quickly found myself travelling from Victoria to Vancouver for a low-dose CT-Scan. After the scan and a complete exploratory of my lungs, the results showed two spots of concern. For the next few years, I continued to get low-dose scans and was closely monitored by a medical team under the direction of Dr. Stephen Lam. 


We hear that phone call saved your life?

It did. In 2013, a screening test and biopsy determined that one of the spots of concern was cancerous.

By August 2014, I underwent surgery to remove that spot. The amazing thing was the doctors didn’t even have to cut me open. There were two parts to the surgery: the first part was putting a coil in my back, which lassoed the cancer; during the second part, the doctors carefully used a machine to help take the cancer out. Thankfully, radiation and chemotherapy were not necessary because the cancer was still at an early stage. I am forever grateful on so many levels.

Do you have any advice for other lung patients?

I attribute the cancer in my lungs entirely to smoking cigarettes because throughout my life, I’ve always exercised, gotten plenty of rest, and eaten healthily. So if you are reading this and still smoke, try and quit. And if like me, you are an ex-smoker, consider getting screened. Early detection saved my life. Perhaps it could save yours.


Photo above: Maxine Koutnekoff with her husband and friend.  Photo right (courtesy UBC Faculty of Medicine): Dr. Stephen Lam

Page Last Updated: 02/06/2020