Rose's Story: My Battle with Lung Cancer
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Rose, a lung cancer survivor, shares why quitting smoking is the best thing you can do to reduce your risk of lung cancer. Her story was featured in the CDC Tips From Former Smokers campaign.
(October 28, 2014)
The day I decided I was done smoking did not come until after I nearly lost a foot. Now, I know that the reason I've suffered from lung and brain cancer is because I smoked for 45 years. I also know the only reason I'm still here is because I quit.
When I first realized that smoking wasn't worth the damage it was doing to my body, I was talking to a doctor about surgery to save my foot. After more than three decades of cigarettes, my blood vessels were clogged with plaque. I was told the best way to prevent amputating my right foot was to undergo bypass surgery to open a new path for blood to reach my foot.
That was the day I stopped smoking for good. If the doctors were going to go through the trouble of removing the plaque from my veins, then I owed it to myself and them to quit. It is something I'm very proud to have done successfully. Nearly everyone in my family smoked and we all tried to quit, including my father who smoked until he died.
Quitting made me feel healthier in many ways. I could walk and do many activities without losing my breath, I got my taste buds back and started eating better, even the healthy foods I never used to like. Preparing for surgery to save my foot felt like I was preparing to end my health problems. In reality, they were just the beginning.
A few days before surgery, the doctors performed an x-ray to make sure my body was strong enough. The scan found I had a tumor in my lung. In April 2012, I was diagnosed with lung cancer and the battle to save my life began.
The medical team started fighting the lung cancer with nine rounds of chemotherapy, which left me very tired, nauseous, and unable to eat much. The next step was surgery to remove the tumor in my lung. I woke up after the operation with two tubes in my chest. They were so painful I couldn’t sleep and was in tears for the last few days before having them removed. Somehow, getting them out was even more painful. As a reminder, I have a long scar around my arm and two more where the chest tubes were placed.
The road to recovery from the lung cancer treatment was long and not without roadblocks and more struggles. In the process of recovering from the surgery I began having seizures. After the second one, I went in and had an MRI that revealed two tumors in my brain. I had another painful surgery and 14 radiation treatments, which made me very tired again and ruined my appetite for weeks. Today, I'm still struggling from the effects of having cancer, which was caused by smoking. I'm in therapy to help me walk normally and regain full control over my hands. I am getting better every day but it's a long process. The love and support of my friends and family is what's helping me through the recovery, pushing me to wake up and try my best when I'm not feeling up to it. I've told my grandkids to remember what I’m going through when they think about smoking.
But it can be hard to get through to them. I didn't expect these consequences when I was 13 years old and sneaking a few cigarettes from my father. I was an active, hyper young kid playing basketball, riding horses, and volunteering at the church. I didn't expect to get so sick when I was using my lunch money to buy cigarettes instead of lunch in high school. My mom always told me to quit but I didn't listen.
I became addicted to cigarettes before I knew enough to realize that it would bring me the pain and suffering that comes along with lung cancer. I understand the power of tobacco addiction as well as anyone and that is why I decided to share my story with the CDC's Tips From Former Smokers campaign.
I know how hard it is to quit smoking but from where I stand now, I can tell you that there is no better gift you can give yourself, your family, and your lungs than to quit smoking today.
If you or a loved one are facing a lung cancer diagnosis, visit the American Lung Association's Facing Lung Cancer for support and resources.