K (Karen) L

K (Karen) L., HI

After several months of unintended weight loss and increasing joint inflammation and pain, I developed a cough. Just hours after being told my cough was caused by acid reflux, I began coughing up blood. At age 46, I was diagnosed with stage 3A lung cancer. My husband was somewhere between Afghanistan and Kuwait when I got the diagnosis. Joyful homecoming became heartbreak when he heard the news. In the days after his return, we had the horrible task of telling our 5 adult children that I had the same disease that took the life of their grandfather a month after his diagnosis. "I will beat this," I promised them. When I said it, I didn't realize the odds of beating lung cancer were not very good. There was no check in the "curative" box on my treatment plan. The intent of my chemotherapy was "symptom control". The thoracic surgeon deemed my cancer inoperable. We sought a second opinion from a surgeon who agreed to reevaluate me as a surgical candidate after I completed radiation and chemo. My treatment was over a month of daily radiation with two rounds of 6 day chemo. My employer was very supportive and accommodating. My laptop was my chemo buddy. If I hadn't continued to work, I probably would have stayed in bed each day. Staying busy was part of my treatment too! Weeks after finishing chemo/rad, the surgeon agreed to perform surgery. He was very honest in his evaluation. He might open me up, see the cancer, and close me up again, or take my entire right lung. I awoke from surgery to the glorious news that the cancer had retreated so much, he was able to remove just my upper lobe. After another 2 rounds of chemo, I was pronounced NED (No Evidence of Disease), and I've enjoyed clean scans for 3 years now. When I told my children "I will beat this", I didn't realize that "beating" lung cancer would continue long after NED. After realizing how little support there is for the lung cancer patient, I vowed to help in any way I can. So, I seek out other people in my community affected by lung cancer. While it warms my heart to help another survivor cope with their disease, it is also full of heartbreak. Statistically, only 2 out of 10 survivors I meet will be alive 5 years after their diagnosis. One of the organizations I work with is ALA HI. I serve as a Better Breathers Club facilitator, I share my story at ALA events, and I serve on the Leadership Council. It's in this way that I continue doing my part to "beat" lung cancer.

First Published: October 15, 2013

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