LUNG FORCE Heroes
My wife Helen and I always "clicked" throughout our 30 years of marriage. She was the love of my life and my very best friend. Together, we have two children. Helen was diagnosed with non-smoker's lung cancer on June 12th, 2013. She passed away two years and five months later on October 9, 2015.
I was always by side and was her care provider throughout her illness. My wife always took care of herself. She never smoked. She ate healthily and exercised regularly, walking five or six miles several times a week. Helen was an extremely bright, socially adept, emotionally intelligent and a gifted writer. She earned a B.A. in American Studies, Suma Cum Laude and a MAT in English. She was the Director of College Counseling at an independent school for 27 years. She was revered by all at her school as well as her colleagues in high schools and colleges around the country. My wife was in excellent shape in every way!
In May 2013, Helen started having severe stomach aches, experienced shortness of breath and a cough. Worst of all, she was in such pain that at times, she could not stand up! She had lost interest in food. Her Primary Care Physician (PCP) diagnosed she had an ulcer. Her PCP prescribed a regimen of medications which only added to her discomfort. In June, she saw a pulmonologist who scheduled her to have a CT Scan on June 12th. After the scan was completed, we thought we were going to see our pulmonologist but instead, we were being sent home. We were told to expect a call on the following Monday with test results. I knew my wife needed attention and that waiting through the weekend was not an option. I called Helen's PCP and indicated that I was "unwilling to take my wife home." I insisted that someone look at the results immediately. We were counseled that our only option was to go to the emergency room at the hospital. After a short time in an emergency room, a team of on-call doctors entered our room to share that my wife had stage 4 lung cancer! The test results showed that her cancer had settled in her brain, bones, lower vertebrae and liver. That very night, she had the first of 10 radiation sessions to her lower lumbar and was fitted for a head positioning mold so the next day she could start having 10 sessions of radiation to her brain.
Over the next two years, we had numerous trips to see our pulmonologist, gastroenterologist, and oncologist. We had numerous visits for MRI, CT Scans and X-rays. Helen was found to have a mutation which could be treated with Tarceva. So, after a few months recovering from brain radiation and taking Tarceva, some of her energy returned. Yet, my wife had to take many medicines (i.e., powerful steroids) to help her cope with the side effects of her treatment. We took short walks around the block together every day. Eventually, she started taking longer walks every day coupled with long afternoon naps. Then, in 2014, spots on her liver started getting larger. Tarceva appeared to have stopped working effectively. Our oncologist scheduled us to visit Dana Farber in Boston to learn about a new trial drug that had shown promise in treating non-smoker's lung cancer. While the Dana Farber oncologist surmised that Helen was a good candidate for the new drug (one that attacked a second mutation that characterized her type of cancer), she could not qualify for the trial because she had never had chemotherapy. So, we started on a series of visits for chemo. We had a mixed set of feelings. Of course we wanted the chemo to work, but, we also wanted to her qualify for the new treatment.Unfortunately, my wife passed away from septic shock, only a few days before she was to start the new drug. She was 58 years old.
Our family, wishes for many things:
- that Helen's Cancer could have been recognized earlier, before it had a chance to metastasize
- that the need for additional funding for Cancer research would be appropriated
- that the additional funding would help researchers identify cures
- that gaining access to clinical trials and experimental interventions could be more open/flexible
- that the serious medical condition sepsis could be detected and controlled
I am 10 years older than my wife. Being older, I thought I was going to be the first to die. It never occurred to me that I would lose my healthy, loving wife and that my children would lose their terrific, loving mom at such an early stage of life. We miss her terribly. Yet, my wife was so loved and revered by her family (and countless friends) that she inspires us every day, to do good deeds in remembrance of her.
First published: January 4, 2017
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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.