LUNG FORCE Heroes
My name is Daphne. I grew up on the small island of Aunu'u, American Samoa. I remember being a young teenager when my Mom, Meleke, developed an on-going cough. She would sneeze and cough year-round and tell me that it was because of her allergies. As cliche as this sounds, my Mom Meleke is the best Mother anyone can ever ask for. The type of Mother that made you and your other 6 siblings feel like you were the only child. The Mother who was the loudest voice cheering and yelling at you during your sport games. The kind of Mother that made you feel unconditionally loved no matter what.
My Mom visited the doctor on island often to check on her cough. They either told her it was because of her allergies or the weather. This didn't make sense considering we lived on a tropical island with awesome weather all the time.
After 9/11, I made up my mind that I would enlist into the U.S. military and join the fight against terrorism as a United States Marine. Even on a small island, in the middle of nowhere, word of the Marines being the best in America was well-known. This was also my ticket off the small island. In Samoa, kids are either great at football and get a scholarship or join the service. I wasn't very good at football.
About 5 years later (2007), I signed up for the Marines and was a promised a bonus of $3,000. This was the largest amount of money I ever imagined having considering I only made around or about $76 bi-weekly for my full-time job. During Marine Corps bootcamp, I wrote a letter to my Mom that read, "Mom, I don't want you to worry about your medical problems. I'll pay for you to see a specialist. After MOS school I'll get that bonus. That's going to you for you to see a specialist okay Mom? As long as I'm in America you'll be taken care of. I love you Mom."
I kept my promise and my Mom went to see a specialist in America for her coughing. You would think that $3,000 would find some answers. My Mom was told that she had a sinus infection and was later told that she had bronchitis. For about 15 years, my Mom was diagnosed with sinus infections, the flu, pneumonia, arthritis, and bronchitis. It was almost as if the doctors didn't know what they were talking about and were going in circles. As if they just wanted to give a different answer every time to seem legitimate. I don't know but if she truly didn't have those illnesses then why would they tell her that?
Finally, in 2014, my Mom told her doctor, "I think I have cancer, please check me for cancer." Her doctor told her that he didn't think she had cancer and that he had already checked her breasts. She insisted and after months of telling her doctor this, she was eventually scheduled for a scan.
When the results came in my Mom didn't tell anyone and went alone. I was at work when she called me and told me that she had stage 4 lung cancer. I immediately fell apart and couldn't believe what she just told me. How?! My Mom who never smoked a day in her life. How did she get this?? And at stage 4?? I thought the doctors had been seeing her often? My Mom explained to me that it had metastasized to her spine, thighs, liver... basically everywhere. HOW!!?? How did so many doctors miss this? How does something this horrific creep it's way through a person's entire body before they, themselves have to convince a doctor to scan them for cancer! Is it because the a lack of education in this disease? No money for research? Because she's never smoked so she can't get lung cancer?
Lung cancer is the most aggressive disease I have ever witnessed in my entire life. It moves quickly and has absolutely no mercy for anyone or anything. It doesn't care whether you smoke, what air you breathe, your age, gender, race, whether you're rich or poor. I grew up watching my tough Mom dominate in rugby matches, I've watched her climb coconut trees, I watched her stand up when she knew something wasn't right, I learned from this fearless woman my whole life. To see her go through her battle of lung disease was the toughest I've ever seen her. My amazing Mother fought for 2 years before going to heaven on February 26, 2016 at the young age of 57. I was sitting next to her, holding her hand telling her how much I loved her and how much of an amazing Mother she is. Not a day goes by that I don't think about her. I break down and fall apart often because of how much I miss her.
I chose to get involved with LUNG FORCE because I don't want there to be another Meleke or another Daphne. The pain I watched my Mom go through was unbearable.
With all of us uniting, we can defeat this disease. We are a force to reckoned with! But we can't do it alone, This disease is the #1 cancer killer of women and it's time to STOP it now! Please get involved, we need you. Each and every one of you can make a difference. Thank you and Fa'afetai tele lava.
First published: December 16, 2016
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Hero stories are the point of view of the Hero and not necessarily the American Lung Association. The Lung Association does not endorse any specific provider, facility or treatment.