I was born and raised in Kentucky where I currently live with my husband and our three children. Never in a million years would I have believed I could get lung cancer because there is no history of the disease in my family and I have never smoked.
One day, while teaching at my school, I had a sharp pain in my chest radiating around to my back that would not go away. I was concerned enough to see my doctor the next day and was relieved when she made the decision to order a CT scan. Thankfully, that one occurrence alarmed me enough to see my doctor right way because I had not experienced any other symptoms and I never felt that original pain again. As a result of the images on the chest scan and some additional tests, on October 9, 2018 I was diagnosed with stage 3c adenocarcinoma NSCLC just two weeks shy of my 41st birthday. I had two tumors in my upper left lobe and 11 lymph nodes that were cancerous.
Initially, I felt numb when we first heard this news. I hurt for my husband and my three children and experienced lots of fear not knowing what my future would look like. Shortly after my diagnosis, we received the news that I tested positive for the EGFR mutation. I soon learned that having this mutation made me a candidate for targeted therapy. I had six weeks of chemo, 30 rounds of radiation, a lobectomy to remove the upper lobe of my left lung, a wedge resection to remove a nodule in the bottom left lobe, five pin point radiation treatments on my left and right lung and currently I am on the targeted therapy pill Tagrisso (80) mg.
Throughout this process I experienced what I would describe as a feeling similar to grief. I mourned for my old lif before the cancer. As a family, we were lost. Over time as I healed from the initial surgery and have had a chance to process our new reality, I realized I wanted to do more to raise awareness about this disease. I hope to help others understand that lung cancer is not a smoker’s disease, it can happen to anyone, even if you have never smoked.
I also hope by sharing my story people who read this will listen to their body and seek medical attention when something doesn’t seem right. You never know when your body’s pain or discomfort is a underlying sign of something more serious. Kentucky may rank # 1 in lung cancer cases and deaths, but don’t be so quick to assume it is because of smoking. My story is proof that if you have lungs, you can get lung cancer. I can’t say for certain what caused the damage in my lungs to develop into cancer but after I was diagnosed, we had our home tested for radon. We made the decision to put in a mitigation system when the radon readings were 8.0 pCi/L, twice the measurement of what is considered a health risk. I was also exposed to a lot of dust and particles in the air when the school I taught in for 17 years was torn down and the air of our new school was temporarily filled with the overflow of unclean air.
Just know there are several causes of lung cancer. Today, it's not a smoker's disease. If it happened to me, it can happen to you!