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LUNG FORCE Heroes

Rhonda T

It began with a cough in late winter. I just thought I had a case of bronchitis. I had not yet quit smoking but was cutting down. The cough continued and I became more and more short of breath. I had gone to my primary care provider who simply thought it was a case of the flu. I requested her to order breathing treatments for my shortness of breath, but she was unwilling to do so at the time. I returned to her when I began to develop other symptoms like difficulty concentrating. I checked my oxygen level (I have a home oximeter) and it was 84%. Not good.

Finally, my primary care physician referred me to a pulmonary specialist. He was very difficult to relate to and would not listen to my questions. He ordered a cat scan of the chest and from that, he jumped to the conclusion that I had TB (tuberculosis). In order to confirm the diagnosis, he needed to send samples of my mucus to the lab. It took several days to collect them, then several weeks to culture them and get results. All this time, I kept insisting to him and his staff that I had not been exposed to TB and therefore, it was unlikely that I had contracted that disease. When the results were due, he left for vacation for two weeks.

I ended up changing to one of his partners to get further testing and finally, a correct diagnosis was made. I had stage IV lung cancer. By this time, three months had passed since I began the journey to find out what was wrong with me. After I saw the second pulmonary specialist, I was referred to a cancer specialist (oncologist) who did more scans and found that the cancer had spread to my brain. I received radiation treatments to my head just to be able to slow the progression so that I could think more clearly and make my final preparations. After another set of scans that found the cancer has now spread to my bones, I have a prognosis of only a few more weeks to live. My message to you who are reading this is "Don't wait." In three months, it is possible that I could have started treatment and it could have made a difference but that time was wasted. Insist on a second opinion, be your own advocate and start treatment as soon as you can.

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