LUNG FORCE Heroes
I'm a 23 year old, blessed, recent lung cancer survivor.
So many people think "this could never happen to me!" and I was one of those people. As a person who never smoked, I thought I was taking all the right precautions to prevent cancer. But cancer isn't biased. Cancer isn't picky or judgmental. It chooses people of all ages, races, and sexes. My health issues began about four years ago. I was 19, and began having severe chest infections, and pneumonia. It became as frequently as every 6 months. It dramatically impacted my life. I, as a once athletic and somewhat active person, felt paralyzed to the way my lungs and breathing made me feel. Sports became a distant memory, my work load became harder and harder to keep up with, and I just didn't feel like the "normal" woman would in her early 20s.
Finally, in November 2015, my body decided it could no longer fight the infections. I went to the hospital with a case of such severe sepsis, that I could no longer walk without help. I spent a week in my local hospital, where they ran numerous tests and my condition got worse. I even required two units of donor blood.
Ultimately I was sent to WVU hospital, Ruby Memorial. Within 24 hours, a CT scan showed under the infection a mass the size of a cotton ball in my left lung. All my years of suffering brought me to my worst fear. I was released to go home after my sepsis was cleared, and moved back into my mother's, to remain on home health and be looked after.
After multiple appointments with a thoracic surgeon, and unsuccessful biopsies done, it was determined that I, at 22 years old, was going to undergo a lobectomy - removal of half of the lung where the mass was located, and still growing.
March 9th, 2016, I went in for my 4 hour surgery, only to wake up 9 hours later to find out that I had an extremely rare form of cancer. The mass became quite aggressive in the short months leading up to my surgery, actually spreading into the arteries of my airway, and resulting in an emergency, 8 hour long pneumonectomy (removal of the total lung and airways attached). I woke up with my parents beside me, and tubes coming out of my chest. My family, siblings and parents, waited in agony for the 8 hours my surgery took, and were so supportive when I woke.
And that's when I faced reality. 9 days before my 23rd birthday, I beat cancer and would live the rest of my life with only one lung.
The recovery process is something that's still ongoing. Learning to do activities of daily living, while struggling for breathe, isn't an easy way to live. It's hard to imagine the rest of my life this way. It's been almost 8 months since surgery, and I'm making progress. I can finally walk through a department store without needing to stop 576849375 times. I can make it through the day without being totally exhausted by 2pm, and needing a nap. I still can't run, climb, walk far, scream, lift heavy things, and many more things I'm sure I'll discover as time goes on.
I feel blessed to be here. Losing a lung is a nightmare, but so many people aren't as fortunate as I am.
SO many believe it won't happen to them. I was a 19, 20, 21, 22 year old non-smoker. And now I'm a 23 year old lung cancer/pneumonectomy survivor. Lung cancer can happen to ANYONE. I don't want anyone else's life to be changed forever, in the way that mine was.
First published: November 9, 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.