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Gail C., NY

When I went to the ER in May 2011 with an acute GI problem, I never expected to be told that the CT scan they had done had detected a lung nodule (unrelated to the GI problem). A follow up PET scan revealed that the nodule was "indeterminate" meaning it didn't "light up" very much. Since that meant it wasn't very metabolically active, there was hope that it wasn't cancer. My options: to wait three months and re-scan to see if the nodule grew, or to consult a thoracic surgeon about having a surgical biopsy. The nodule, being only 1.5 cm, was considered too small for a needle biopsy. My Internet search revealed that because I was close to 60 years old, and the nodule was over 1.0 cm, the probability of it being malignant was 65%. With those odds, I opted for surgery. I had Video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery, technically laparoscopic, it's still considered major surgery. The pathology report during surgery revealed cancer so the surgeon removed the affected lobe of my lung. My surgeon told me while I was in Recovery that the tumor had been malignant. Knowing the odds, I can honestly say I was not surprised or shocked. I was just glad the tumor was gone.

My surgery had gone very well and my recovery was going well. I was so relieved to have gotten through this terribly frightening and difficult time. Then I received copies of my disability papers from the surgeon's office in the mail and saw these words: "Diagnosis: Lung Cancer". I cried my eyes out. Those words pertained to me. I had lung cancer! Seeing it written was quite a shock.

Although my life has changed forever, at this point, I still consider myself fortunate. That lung nodule, if it hadn't been detected incidentally during my ER visit, would have undoubtedly progressed to Stage IV lung cancer before any symptoms would've appeared. I was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, a subtype of Non-small cell lung cancer. But I was lucky. The tumor was well-differentiated and I was staged at 1a, the earliest stage lung cancer can be detected. There had been no lymph node involvement. My surgeon told me the tumor had been very well contained. I needed no further treatment. I have a pretty fair shot at a cure, but unfortunately, I still face the very real possibility of recurrence and therefore must be monitored by scans every six months. It's very difficult living from scan to scan never knowing what the next one might reveal. I would love to have my old, carefree life back again.

First Published: October 29, 2013

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