I was at work when I received the call. My coworker was in my office and I didn't know until much later that her being there was on purpose. The phone rang at my desk and it was my mom. As usual my greeting was "Hey mama!" because I was always excited to hear from her. But this time her normal reply was subdued. Instead of her normally enthusiastic "Hey Nonica!" she calmly said "Are you busy?"
I turned to look at my coworker, who at that point was sitting on the edge of the chair, no emotion in her face. "No mama, what's up? Whatcha doing?" Slowly and in a measured tone mom said, "Well, the results from my biopsy came back and confirmed that I have lung cancer. But I'm ok." I don't remember if she said anything else. All of sudden all of the air was sucked out of the room. I don't know where the tears came from, but they were fast and immediate. I don't even remember the feeling of crying, I just know that I did cry. My coworker immediately jumped up and took the phone from me and spoke in hushed tones to my mom. Even now, seven years later, I still don't remember what they talked about. I just know that everything about my life changed at that moment, everything.
My mom was diagnosed with Stage IV Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer in 2008. The cancer was already in her lymph nodes. There were also spots on her spine and her liver. This was long before there was any major discussion on clinical trials and immunotherapies. The only option for my mom at that time was chemo because her lung cancer was inoperable. I think what was almost as equally frustrating as the cancer was not knowing that she had it until the late stages. Lung cancer shows no symptoms until the late stages. Early symptoms often mimic other medical issues and long go unnoticed. There are no visible, outward signs that someone has lung cancer; we can't see or touch our lungs. My mom only experienced soreness around her neck, which she thought could have been attributed to straining while working the yard. My mom was a former smoker and had quit twelve years prior to her diagnosis.. But her smoking may not have been the only cause of her lung cancer. Other factors like living in a paper mill town and teaching for more than 30 years in a building near cotton fields, may have also contributed to her cancer. We will never know now.
Two years after my mom was diagnosed I decided to resign from my job to help take care of her. I was able to spend nine wonderful months with her before she died in May 2012. After that time I knew that I needed to dedicate my life and the second half of my career to being an advocate for others. I am now one of five co-founders of #LCSM (Lung Cancer Social Media) Chat on Twitter. We have a blog, a Facebook page and an entire community of survivors, advocates and family members dedicated to spreading awareness offering support, raising money and removing stigma about lung cancer. There are so many new drug therapies that have been developed since my mom was diagnosed in 2008 and there are many more treatment options available to those newly diagnosed. But, that wouldn't be possible without new resources and critical research dollars. I miss my mama more than you can imagine, but I know that I must push forward to do what I can to ensure that others affected by lung cancer have a chance at living happy and fulfilling lives.