It was four years ago that I went to the ER for excruciating stomach pain. It was four years ago I heard the words, "You have lung cancer."
"I have what?" In complete disbelief as a lifelong runner, yogi, health and fitness professional, I was sure the doctor was talking about someone else. I shook my head back and forth just like Wile E. Coyote after Roadrunner had dropped an andiron on the top of his skull, with anticipation that I would bounce back in exactly the same cartoon-style of resilience. But the type of resilience my family and I would need was no joke, and the road ahead was unknown.
Day 1: "It's likely not cancer since you have no symptoms."
Day 3: "It's cancer, but likely early since you have no symptoms."
Day 6: "It's Stage 3 lung cancer, and you may have two years."
I remember thinking, "My son will be 10 and I'll be dead? NOT an option." After that, I lost count of the days, of the medical acronyms, tests, needles and expert opinions. Everything started to sound like the adults on any given Peanuts cartoon. Overnight my husband became solo breadwinner, parent, caregiver, communicator, advocate, chauffeur, chef, secretary, housekeeper and peacemaker.
I had cancer; cancer did not have me. I began my steadfast voyage to beat the beast of lung cancer. I left the dream job I had worked so hard for and gave myself one job to do: beat cancer. Lymph nodes were removed and tested, tumors were staged, a port was inserted and more and more rigorous tests. Old doctors fired, new ones hired. Left lung resection was done, more chemo and simultaneous radiation. I prevailed.
My family and I were more tired and more strong than we had ever been before. We are fighters. Not a day goes by that I don't remember life before cancer. But my life after cancer has new meaning. It's futile to ask how this happened to me, or stop "living" or enjoying every day panicking that any of my actions or choices will bring the c-word back again. Scanxiety is a real thing and I never have to look at a calendar to know when my time under big heavy machines has come around again.
I tell my story because I am the "unexpected" face of lung cancer. If I can get lung cancer, anyone can. I speak up and tell my story because I can, because I'm still here and I'm not supposed to be. I tell my story to fight for those still fighting and for those we've lost, and to educate those who need advocacy or education or can make a difference to change the state of all kinds of lung disease. I HAD CANCER, CANCER NEVER HAD ME.