After enduring bouts of pneumonia and other debilitating respiratory issues, I was finally diagnosed in 2013, at the age of 32, with a pulmonary neuroendocrine tumor (NET). Neuroendocrine cancer can develop anywhere in the body and varies in aggressiveness. I was fortunate to have been diagnosed at stage 1A with a slow growing form of NET cancer. On May 3, 2013 I underwent a procedure to remove the tumor and most of my right lung. Surgery and the loss of my lung was the extent of my treatment and I consider myself to be very fortunate. It is very surreal to consider the loss of a vital organ as lucky, but I have learned that many people with lung cancer and other lung diseases do not fare as well as I did.
My experience with lung disease sadly did not begin with my own diagnosis. In 2004 my grandmother was diagnosed with a form of COPD that slowly destroyed her lungs and impaired her ability to breathe. For many years I watched her sit through countless doctor appointments, endure hundreds of breathing treatments, and manage complicated medication schedules; all while she was tethered to an oxygen tank. The therapy she received only softened her pain, but it did not slow the disease. Her lungs were functioning at 20% capacity during her last year of life. My grandmother died in 2018 after an almost 20-year battle with lung disease.
With the outbreak of COVID-19, the year 2020 was a very scary era for the entire world. It was particularly unnerving for people like me. I was worried about my own lung health, but all the more worried about protecting my 86-year-old grandfather. My medical history and his age placed both of us at high risk for complications associated with the virus. On December 5th, 2020, just seven days before the emergency approval of the COVID-19 vaccine, my grandfather passed away after a two week-long battle with the virus.
My hope in sharing my story and that of my grandparents is not only to raise awareness and remove the stigma that surrounds lung cancer and lung disease, but to evoke the importance of funding that is needed to provide resources and research that protect our nation’s health.
We all have lungs and we all deserve the ability to breathe easy.