by Editorial Staff | December 18, 2019
- LUNG FORCE & Cancer
My story is a testament that love is everything, prayers are answered, and miracles do happen.
In 2006, I didn’t feel well. I was really tired, had shortness of breath, chest pain, back pain, a constant, wheezing cough. I would later discover these are five symptoms of lung cancer. I always did small things to stay in shape, but after walking up a flight of stairs and not being able to breathe, I decided it was time to go to the doctor.
My primary care physician checked my heart, my spine and tested me for asthma. She said everything looked normal, to take Prilosec for 30 days, and schedule a follow-up visit. That was on a Tuesday. That Friday, I received a call that the X-ray technician had found several spots on my lungs.
At the time, I was only 38. I’d never smoked a day in my life, I’d been a lifetime athlete, attending college on a basketball and track scholarship, and we didn’t have any cancer history in my family.
In September 2006, after three months of testing in five different hospitals, I received a call from my doctor that he wanted me to come in to go over my test results. So, my husband Rich, my family and I met at the doctor’s office. The doctor shared that he and his team reviewed the results and that it was stage IV lung cancer. Everyone in the room began to cry.
By the time I was diagnosed, the cancer had spread to both of my lungs, my neck and I had a tumor the size of a golf ball in my chest. As the doctors shared the news, they explained I only had a 2% chance of living and that most with my diagnosis die within the first year. They were basically telling me I was going to die.
I never believed I would die. To me, thinking that way would be a waste of time. I heard the 2% living, not the 98% dying. So, when I got the news that day, I didn’t cry and I didn’t ask “why me?” I couldn’t go back in time and change anything, so why dwell on it? I set my sights on where I wanted to be and decided to spend my time living my life. All I could do was control the future and what I was going to do next. I knew it was time for me to put on my game face and that is exactly what I did! I looked at my diagnosis as a challenge or a competition that I was going to win. There was no way I was going to allow cancer to beat me.
At that point, my only chance of surviving was with chemotherapy because the cancer had spread throughout my body. About a month later it was time for me to start chemo. I was full of energy and determination, but the thought of putting poison in my body was something I needed to deal with.
So, I dealt with it my way. I went to the ladies’ restroom, locked the door, got down on my knees and prayed for God to take care of me and give me the strength I needed. I immediately felt the urge to dance, so I did. I stood at the ladies’ room mirror and sang really loud and danced really hard. It was what I needed, I was then ready to start chemotherapy.
Every other week for 17 months, I’d show up for chemo. They’d stick a needle in the top of my hand, and I would sit there for an hour and a half while they pumped my body with medicine that I knew was going to make me feel awful. And every day afterward, I would get up and go to work. No way was I going to let the cancer win.
I took control of the situation. I didn’t let cancer define me. My hair fell out, so I wore cute baseball hats. I gained 20 pounds, so I bought new clothes. I made sure my personal calendar came first, and my medical calendar came second.
We bought a motorcycle, we went on a hot air balloon, we went parasailing, and we traveled to so many places. Also, during this time my niece Keagan Christy aka Little C came into the world. I continued to live my life to the fullest despite my situation. After nearly a year and a half of chemotherapy, I was cancer free for the first time.
In 2013, the cancer returned. During a routine checkup, they found a tumor the size of a walnut in my chest. In June of 2013, they opened my chest and breastbone and removed my thymus and pericardium, a procedure that was almost unheard of for a stage IV lung cancer patient. I now have a seven-inch scar on my chest from the incision. I’m not ashamed of my scar and I don’t try to hide it. After six weeks of recovery from my surgery, I was cancer free for the second time.
I had always wanted to run a half marathon. After winning against stage IV lung cancer twice, I decided to go after that goal. Six months after my open chest surgery I began training and in April 2014, I ran my first half marathon in 2 hours and 26 minutes. But just a week later, at my routine checkup, I found out I had stage IV lung cancer for the third time.
In May of 2014, the doctors determined I had several tumors in the lining of my lungs. I went after round 3 just like I did with rounds 1 and 2—with drive and determination. And, as you might have guessed, I danced! And I did all the other things I loved to do.
I went to the World Series and a Fleetwood Mac Concert. I traveled to Key West, New Orleans and Costa Rica. I took my dad to an Indiana Colts football game and got to be a Coin Toss Captain at a Chiefs football game. I didn’t allow cancer to control my life, instead I was in control.
A year and 17 rounds of chemo later, the doctors decided to take me off the chemo to monitor me. In February 2017, I received fabulous news that I was cancer free for the third time.
But in October 2017, the doctors discovered two spots on my lungs. After a needle biopsy, I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer for the fourth time. The good news is that although the cancer is active, it is stable and there are no signs of new disease, so no treatment is needed at this time.
As always, I’m facing round 4 by continuing to live my life to the fullest. We went to Aruba and the Virgin Islands. We saw Hank Williams Jr. and Bob Seger in concert. I took my niece to see Ariana Grande in concert. I took my dad on a helicopter ride.
We moved to the Lake of the Ozarks where every day I get to wake up to a beautiful sunrise, watch eagles fly, listen to the birds sings, and look up and see a million stars in the night sky.
I ran the Lake of the Ozarks 10K. As I approached the third mile, I looked over at the incredible water and then up at the sky and thanked God for the wonder of it all.
When Rich and I met over 28 years ago on the dance floor at a sports bar, he had no idea that his wife would be faced with the deadliest form of cancer. I’ve always wished better for him. He didn’t sign up for this. But God knew our plans and that’s why he put us together. I wouldn’t be here today without Rich. I’m so very blessed that he’s mine.
My dad doesn’t like talking about me having cancer, but he did eventually share one story with me. He said that the day I called and told them I had cancer, he got in his truck and turned on the radio. The first song he heard was “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw, which is a perfect example of what this is like. But I don’t live like I’m dying. I live like I’m alive.
A friend of mine describes my story as my “Victory March” and I like that. Throughout my “Victory March” I have leaned on what I learned from my parents and from my coaches. I continue to listen to my inner voice saying, “You can do it,” “Don’t give up” and “I’m strong.”
If I had one wish, it would be for everyone to experience what I have. Not the cancer, but the power of love, prayer and the desire to live life to the fullest. If I hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer, I would never have experienced and felt the love, support, and friendship that has been given to me from so many people.
I don’t spend any time thinking about the fact that I have cancer. Instead I focus on being happy and alive! I feel truly blessed. I know that God has chosen me to provide hope and strength to others that will be diagnosed with this disease.
Cancer will be part of my life for the rest of my life. I'm proud of that. I have had the privilege of participating in countless research trials. I always say yes! This research could potentially save lives by providing better medicines and treatments for future patients. I have also raised over three million dollars to support defeating lung cancer. To me, that’s what it’s all about—being happy and making a positive difference. On September 26, 2019, l celebrated being a 13-year stage IV lung cancer survivor. My doctors call me a miracle. That day, I opened the windows and sunroof of my car and drove down the highway with the sun in my face, with the wind in my hair, and my arms up in victory!
So now I’m going to listen to my music really loud and dance in front of my mirror until I’m out of breath. But I’ll keep going because I don’t quit. Over 13 years ago they told me I would die within the year and—look at me now!
Blog last updated: April 24, 2020
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