Alicia admits she knew very little about lung disease until her husband was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer with metastases in his spine, bones and brain. Unfortunately, the cancer was too advanced, and he passed just a few months later. She began searching for answers about what causes lung cancer and the organizations that are working hard to fund research and find a cure for this terrible disease. “When my husband was diagnosed, I spent hours on the phone trying to get my questions answered and to little avail. After a while, I sort of gave up,” Alicia remembers.
A few years later, Alicia was diagnosed herself with stage 3 lung cancer, and underwent surgery that required removing 16 lymph nodes and the upper lobe of her left lung. She also underwent radiation and chemotherapy, and, thanks to a great team of doctors and nurses, she is now cancer free.
After recovering, she felt even more inclined to give back and help those, like her, who are dealing with cancer and have questions that are hard to get answered. This is when she came across the American Lung Association and decided to become an Imerman Angel mentor. Imerman is an organization that matches mentors, also known as Mentor Angels, with those facing lung cancer. “I have always been someone who prefers to give back, so this was a natural fit for me,” she said.
Becoming an Angel
As soon as Alicia contacted Imerman Angels, they talked her through the process and connected her with mentees. Imerman starts by pairing mentors and mentees that have similar backgrounds or stories. They encourage the mentor to begin by reaching out via email. In this risk-free way, both sides can share their stories and eventually work up to talking on the phone or in person. “I have had up to eight mentees so far,” Alicia says. “A few I have stayed in touch with long term. One person I particularly bonded with lived a very active and healthy lifestyle. So, it was a struggle when they received a stage 3 lung cancer diagnosis, which later progressed to stage 4.”
The reason Alicia believes that mentorship is so helpful is because only those who have gone through the experience can really relate to how it feels. “I remember when I had chemo, it was hard to eat or keep food down, so I always tell everyone to eat whatever sounds good, no matter how healthy it is. If you want a twinkie, have a twinkie,” she said.
Alicia recalls another mentee who was having trouble with chemo, including being stressed about losing his hair and struggling with extreme nausea. Though she could not offer medical expertise, she suggested they take some time to be around horses again, which had always been one of this mentee’s passions. Alicia also encouraged being more open with their medical team so that they could be sure the right medications were being administered to help with side effects. “It’s the little things, the moral support and encouragement, just saying ‘you are strong, and you can do this’ really made a difference for me. Letting them know that getting though all that is what has allowed me to be alive now,” Alicia said.
One of Alicia’s mentees sticks out in her mind because they were still unable to stop smoking even though they were struggling with a lung cancer and COPD. As a former smoker herself, it made Alicia really think about how she could reach further. “I contacted the American Lung Association in California and became involved in raising money and awareness in support of their mission,” Alicia explained.
“A lot of people don’t want to talk about their lung cancer diagnosis and treatments because of the stigma of lung cancer. I wear that badge openly and freely because I am a survivor. I wear it to hopefully enlighten people and let them know there is an opportunity for survival, and it is nothing that has left me scarred.”
Lung cancer patients can visit Lung.org/cancer-mentor and select if they would like to receive or become a patient or caregiver “Mentor Angel.”
Blog last updated: November 16, 2021