Denise Z

Denise Z., PA

If not for government support, funding and advancements in medical science, I would be dead. I am a stage IV lung cancer survivor. A triumph of government, medical science, doctors, nurses, lawmakers, friends and family who shined a light, helped me see, to be, living beyond cancer. 

I was reminded of this recently with Amanda Gorman’s words. 
“There is always light, if only we're brave enough to see it. If only we're brave enough to be it.”  Her words soared out and touched a wounded nation They moved me not only as an American but as a stage IV lung cancer survivor.  

As a cancer patient I know what’s it’s like to rise above fear. While it wasn’t the roars of an angry, armed mob as we saw at the capital, it’s threat could be felt. Cancer perhaps has more in common with the coronavirus than an angry mob. As cancer patients we understand this fear, but there is hope. Real hope. I am living proof of it. 

Life giving medical treatment however means nothing if you can’t afford it. I’ve known the fear of not having health insurance. I was a successful business owner and significant tax payer for more than 25 years when diagnosed. Cancer brought me and my business to our knees. I always had good health insurance and made sure to provide it to my hundreds of employees over the years. But I now found myself in debt with my future unknown. Would I live or die? Would I have the health insurance to even give it a go? What about pre-existing conditions? 

The reality that life saving treatments were a 30 minute drive from my home but I might not be able to afford, ignited a fear perhaps more debilitating than my diagnosis. Without being able to access care there was no hope. The two, are intertwined. We are all living that now with Covid. But shots in the arm are free. 

I took a job for minimum wage so I could have health insurance. I started a social commerce business selling vintage and clothes from my closet to help supplement my income. I was able to get quality care and after one year of chemo, radiation and immunotherapy I went into remission. I am now more than 2 years in remission.

I am called a miracle. But it’s not a miracle of magic. It’s the real outcome of medical science, funding for research and having access to quality health care. It’s all within the realm of possibilities.

That’s why I am an advocate. I want every cancer patient to see the light like I did. In my advocacy work I have seen even more promising innovations to further our ability to diagnosis and treat lung cancer, beyond our current miraculous achievements. 

While my contributions may be small, measured by how much impact I can have as one person, the purpose is mighty. I may be just one point of light but I am joined by thousands of others whose collective efforts bring real hope. 

I like to think that in these efforts, we become the light, so all who have lung cancer can see.

First Published: June 6, 2019

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