Lisa Phares hikes, walks, and does daily circuit training, mostly to prepare for her first athletic love: competitive paddling with Ke Kai O’Uhane Outrigger Canoe Club.
When Phares began having a little trouble taking deep breaths, particularly when paddling, she tried to dismiss it. But lung screenings at her company’s annual worksite wellness fair made her take it seriously. And she’s so grateful she did: The red flag warning ultimately led to a cancer diagnosis, at its earliest, most curable stage.
“I am such a huge advocate of screenings,” says Phares. “I feel so fortunate to work for a company that cares enough about its employees to invest in us and provide worksite wellness fairs with Community Hospital. If I can help promote the importance of wellness checks for others’ benefit, I’m happy to do so.”
Phares works for organicgirl, a Salinas-based producer of fresh greens and salad dressings. Since 2013, organicgirl has partnered with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula’s Worksite Wellness program, which provides health screenings, assessments, education, and health coaching to companies in Monterey and San Benito counties. The program aims to improve health and wellness and reduce healthcare costs.
At organicgirl’s 2015 health fair, Phares had a range of measurements and screenings, including checks of her blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and body mass index. She also had a lung-capacity test, which indicated she might have an obstruction.
“At first, I kind of ignored the news; I really didn’t think anything of it. But a year later,” she says, “my breathing was more labored, particularly during a hard workout. I had the same test, and the results were a little worse.”
I am such a huge advocate of screenings. I feel so fortunate to work for a company that cares enough about its employees to invest in us and provide worksite wellness fairs with Community Hospital. If I can help promote the importance of wellness checks for others’ benefit, I’m happy to do so.
— Lisa Phares, organic and food safety compliance manager of organicgirl and member of the Ke Kai O’Uhane Outrigger Canoe Club
Phares made an appointment with Dr. Nupur Sinha, a pulmonary and critical care specialist at Montage Medical Group who conducted a series of tests and prescribed an inhaler and set follow-up appointments.
Sinha ordered a CT scan, a noninvasive X-ray, of Phares’ lungs. The scan revealed an area of tiny, non-uniform masses. After continued monitoring, Sinha ordered a PET scan, which found a nodule that suggested the possible presence of cancer. Phares was given the option of continued monitoring of her lungs or having the nodule surgically removed.
Phares, who is a stage-1 breast cancer survivor, didn’t want to keep worrying, so she chose to have the nodule removed. It turned out to be cancer, but it was at stage 1A, the embryonic stage, and the earliest detection possible. Once the cancer was removed, no follow-up treatment was necessary.
“Listen to those messages you’re getting and respond,” she advises others. “Early detection of any abnormality can sometimes save your life.”
Phares continues to live life to the fullest. In summer 2019, she traveled to Hawaii to compete in the largest long-distance outrigger canoe race in the world, the Queen Lili’uokalani Canoe Race.
“Being in my 60s is awesome,” Phares says, “and I’m not afraid to say it. I own it. I’m alive and healthy and grateful to all the people who are keeping me that way. Every day is awesome.”