Stage IV lung cancer — a frightening diagnosis and a shocking one, too, because I had none of the risk factors. In August 2019, just weeks after my 65th birthday celebration, I was preparing to leave home to drive with a colleague to a board meeting for an organization where we both volunteer. I suddenly had an odd sensation — my right hand would not respond to what my brain wanted it to do. I couldn’t make it scratch my shoulder or pick up a hairbrush — a synapse wasn’t connecting. The feeling disappeared almost as quickly as it had appeared, so I chose to ignore it and went about my day. But when it happened a second time a few hours later, my husband insisted we head to the emergency room. I expected to be told I’d had a minor stroke.
Instead, the brain MRI showed a metastasis. The positive to that, I was told, was that I didn’t have brain cancer, but a cancer elsewhere in my body that had metastasized. The follow-up CT scan showed I had non-small cell adenocarcinoma, or in lay terms, non-smoker’s lung cancer.
It has now been 3 ½ years, and I have experienced all the emotions one would expect — from initial disbelief, to anger, to “why me?,” to crying spells, and to gratitude that I have a loving and supportive family and wonderful friends who are here for me.
As you may know, Stage IV cancers have no cure. I know this diagnosis is an eventual death sentence. My treatment has included radiation to the brain to reduce the size of the tumors and a daily oral drug (osimertinib, brand name Tagrisso) that is targeted to treat the particular gene mutation of my form of lung cancer. I had a scare this past September when a new small mass appeared on my lung, as well as a slight increase of the size of the original tumor. This past fall I underwent additional radiation, this time targeted to those particular areas of the lung. The good news for me is that to-date, the treatments have worked; I generally am feeling well, the side effects have been manageable, and I am able to enjoy many of my former activities. The bad news is that research shows Tagrisso eventually will stop being effective. It has worked for me longer than expected. Then, who knows what is next?
Life has changed for our family in those 3 ½ years. Yes, as you can hear, I have a chronic cough, and I have chest pain, particularly when I exercise. But, most importantly, I have been here for the birth of my first grandchild, a beautiful little girl. We celebrated her second birthday just a few days ago. I want to watch her grow, and I want her to know her “Grammy.” I am praying for years, not months. But, without continued funding for research and new treatments, my days with her will be limited.
I know in many ways I have been lucky, with great healthcare, insurance, and the ability to travel for treatment, if need be. I know not everyone is so blessed, which is why we need to fund programs that help all of us with this disease.
I am now 68. That may seem old too many and young to some. But, I was healthy, active and fit all my life until this surprise diagnosis. My parents lived into their 90s, and I certainly expected the same for me. I still have much to offer the world as a mom, grandmother, wife and community volunteer. With your support, I can continue to contribute, and share with my granddaughter the glory of nature, a love of reading and a belief in government that cares for us all.