LUNG FORCE Heroes
It was on January 18th, 2013 when my journey began. It was the day my husband and I were told I had lung cancer. LUNG CANCER. I thought it was impossible. I was a woman in my early 50's, healthy as a horse, and a nonsmoker. OK - except for the occasional smoke when I went bar hopping during college a million years ago - I am a nonsmoker! Only people who smoke get lung cancer I thought! Wow, is that a joke. I learned that lung cancer is the leading cause of death over all other types of cancer. Why aren't we being told that?
From that point on my family and I met with oncologists and other specialists, took a myriad of tests and looked to the internet to learn about my new life or the short term life I was learning about. My family - what can I say about them. They took over every time we saw the doctor or had to take a test - everything. I listened to everyone but I didn't hear a word they were saying. I was dying. My only thought was when and how long. I began therapy which was the best thing I ever could have done not only for me but for my family. We were all suffering. I was leaving the loves of my life and they were losing their wife, mother and grandmother. The one who kept it all together.
The next 2 months were a blur. My family researched where to go and who to see, specialists here and specialists there. We knew my cancer was rare and very few surgeons would even take on my case. Actually, there were two. The one we chose was at the opposite side of the country or so we thought! He was right in our neck of the woods. When we met with him with my family and talked, I just had a blank look until he looked me in the eye, took my hand and said "You and I are going to save your life." That I heard!
The next day we met with my oncologist who had more amazing news. My genetic marking results were finally in and I am one of the rare people who tested FISH positive for ELK4-ALK fusion gene. I have no idea what that meant, only that 1 out of 5 people are eligible to take Xalkori, a relatively new drug designed for my genetic markings. It was decided that a few months after surgery we would now start on the journey of chemo pills - 2 a day, possibly forever. Wow my luck really was changing. Now I faced the biggest challenge of my life: Lifesaving surgery.
On, March 3rd, my life changed yet again. I had surgery to remove my right lung, right pleura, and right diaphragm. In doing that, my entire right side had no immediate organs within the rib so a gortex diaphragm was added to hold my ribs and bovine around my heart. It was a very, very long surgery with many, many months of recovery.
Let's skip forward between 2013 and 2015: Suffice to say the recovery was long, difficult and it was not without side effects, all of which I live with today. After 29 rounds of chemo, we decided to go off the chemo in late 2015. I was always referred to as the "miracle kid" at the Cancer Center. Some days I feel that way and some days I don't. The many hospital stays, doctor appointments, side effects, fatigue, well they are tough not only on me but my family.
My family - they are the backbone of my support. They were amazing, they never gave up on me even when I gave up on myself. They supported me, cheered me on, yelled at me, pushed and did everything they could to make me whole again. I thank god every day for my husband, daughter, son, son in law and my future daughter in law. They stayed with me in the hospital, bathed me, brushed my teeth, and took care of things that you wouldn't expect your family to do. You are my backbone and my life and I love you more than you can ever imagine.
Today I am not the person I was before and I will never be that person. I'm the new me. While I am now three years cancer free, I still look over my shoulder waiting for the bomb to drop, which is quite common for cancer survivors. I'm back to work part time and have now become a Board Member of LUNG FORCE. I want to help people who have lung issues and let them know that just because you are "scheduled to die" doesn't mean you will. I still have some fatigue and with the occasional hitting the wall. I still have all of the many side effects and live with them every day. It's my new life, it's my new world, it's my new me. We have a new grandson who brings me as much joy as his big brother. I get to spend so much time with them and be the mema that I was afraid I could never be.
A life altering disease like cancer changes you forever. You learn to not sweat the small stuff and cherish every day of your life. I try to become a voice and a source of support to others who are currently fighting and have fought cancer. I personally thank god every day for giving me another day. I am reaching my next goal in 2018 where I will have reached 5 years of being a cancer survivor. I can then move on to my new goals - 10 years, 15 years, 20 years and on. No matter where life takes me, I AM A CANCER SURVIVOR.
First published: March 10, 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.