On May 1, 2013 I was 25 years old and working as an RN in Tulsa, Oklahoma when my life changed forever. I was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer and given 6 months to live. That was 5 years ago.
After the preliminary diagnosis, it was discovered that I have a very rare genetic mutation in the DNA of the cancer cells. I was officially diagnosed with Stage IV ALK+ Non-Small Cell Adenocarcinoma of the lung. This form of lung cancer is common in young adults and nonsmokers.
After 4 cycles of unsuccessful chemotherapy, I started a targeted therapy drug called Xalkori (Crizotinib). It shrunk all of the cancers and made them barely visible on the scans. I had no evidence of disease! I continued to take this drug every day. It was not a cure, but it was giving me precious time.
In August 2015, I found out that I had 5 brain tumors. The cancer had spread to the one place where the medication didn't work. I quickly joined a clinical trial for a new medication that was supposed to work better on the brain. The new drug shrunk the brain tumors and continued to work on the rest of the cancer in the body. I have now been on this clinical trial drug for 3 years. The drug is FDA approved but I choose to continue to stay in the trial.
The plan is to stay on this drug until it stops working. When the cancer can no longer be controlled on the trial drug, I will try another one. When that one stops working, we will find another and then another, until I run out of options. There is no cure, but I hope and pray to continue with treatment for many years. Eventually, I hope doctors will be able to treat this disease like a chronic illness instead of a terminal illness.
This experience has given me a unique perspective on the value of life and the time that we are given. I realize that I want to do more than just survive, I want to live. When the first drug started working, and I realized I wasn't dying, I decided that there were still things in my life that I wanted to experience. I wanted to enjoy the rest of my life as much as possible. I still had goals and hopes and dreams to achieve.
Two years after my diagnosis, I married my husband in a beautiful chapel filled with friends and family. That day, I also gained a stepson. It was a dream come true! I never imagined that I would get married while fighting a terminal illness. I felt guilt for marrying someone when I knew I had a terminal illness, but my husband and I decided that for as long as were still living, we wanted to be together.
One year after our marriage, my husband and I truly felt that we still had room in our hearts for more children. Because of my cancer drug, we knew that we would not be able to have children naturally. That was a devastating loss for me. We then decided to share our love with foster children. We knew that we had love to give to these children who already existed and just needed someone to love them. Today, we foster babies that are born addicted to drugs. I use my nursing experience to care for these babies that are often too difficult for other foster homes to handle.
Through my cancer journey, I have realized that God didn't give me cancer, but He has used it for good. He has given me a new purpose in loving and caring for my family and our foster children. I believe that God has been preparing me for this calling since I was a little girl, playing will baby dolls and nursing them back to health.
There is life after diagnosis. As long as I am still breathing, I am going to continue living out my purpose and making the most out of every day. We don't know what the future will hold, but we are excited to continue living!