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Debra Penberg

It was a tough start to 2021 for Debra Penberg. The Deer Park resident fought off a bout of pneumonia, the result of COVID-19. Following her recovery, Debra’s doctor recommend a lung scan that revealed no lasting issues from pneumonia or any additional health concerns.

“After my illness, I felt fine,” she said. “I never had what you would call a smoker’s cough or a raspy voice. Suddenly, I developed a cough that at first was annoying but then became quite serious as it produced some blood.”

She returned to her doctor in May concerned about this latest health issue. A CAT scan revealed she had lung cancer. Shaken by the news, Debra promptly met with The Cancer Institute at Good Samaritan Hospital’s team of experts.

“I was amazed and thankful at how quickly they were able to get me an appointment,” she said.

Debra’s initial consultation was with Catholic Health’s Director of Interventional Pulmonary and Lung Cancer Screening Director Sharad Chandrika, MD. A biopsy was performed to confirm the results and a treatment plan was developed by the Institute’s Director of Thoracic Oncology Ashish Sangal, MD.

An initial regimen of chemotherapy helped shrink the tumor considerably, which was followed by radiation treatment administered by Chairman of Radiation Oncology Johnny Kao, MD. Debra took part in a clinical trial being conducted in partnership with the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. The trial is studying how well single-fraction stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) works when compared to treating cancer patients with standard radiation therapy.

SBRT uses special equipment to position a patient and deliver radiation to tumors with high precision. This method can kill tumor cells with fewer doses over a shorter period of time, causing less damage to normal tissue.

“Our relationship with Roswell Park provides us access to clinical trials such as SBRT, which allows us to offer the latest treatments to our patients,” said Dr. Kao. “We were happy to see Debra respond well and achieve very rapid and sustained pain relief.”

For the foreseeable future, she will be receiving monthly immunotherapy treatments. These treatments employ medicines to boost a person’s immune system, allowing it to recognize and destroy cancer cells more effectively.

“We took a multidisciplinary approach to Debra’s treatment, bringing together our experts in medical oncology, radiation oncology and interventional pulmonary,” said Dr. Sangal. “Her response to the treatment regimen we developed specifically for her has been excellent.”

Debra said she didn’t know what to expect when she visited The Cancer Institute at Good Samaritan. At other non-Catholic Health cancer centers, family members complained of long wait times and difficulties in getting appointments. That wasn’t Debra’s experience at Catholic Health. She was quickly seen and welcomed the compassionate care she received.

Additionally, during her chemotherapy treatments, Penberg also said the staff made her feel at ease and addressed any concerns she had.

“Everyone has been wonderful,” Debra said. “I love my doctors and the support staff has been amazing. They have taken the time to talk with me about my treatment and answer all my questions honestly and in a way that is easy for me to understand. I could sing their praises forever.”

Catholic Health Cancer Institutes across Long Island offer comprehensive lung cancer services, including screening, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up and survivorship care. The health system’s affiliation with Roswell Park, one of the nation’s leading cancer research centers, also gives Long Islanders exclusive access to the newest and most innovate treatments available only through clinical trials.

Information on Catholic Health’s cancer programs may be obtained by calling (844) 86-CANCER or visiting For more information on Catholic Health’s lung screening program, please call (844) 247-LUNG.

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