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Linda K., PA

My name is Linda and I'm an ex-smoker. Sadly, I have always, until recently, felt that I had to add this as a preface or add a postscript to any conversation I had regarding my health. As if somehow I deserved anything that was wrong with me. I did it to myself, of course, because I willingly smoked. I started smoking at a very young age and once I was hooked it was extremely hard to quit. I tried patches, gum, smoke cessation classes, piercings, hypnosis, cold turkey, really, anything that was available. I would quit for maybe a week or two, then one of my 'smoking' triggers would be pushed, and I was smoking again. When all was said and done, I smoked for 25 years, and was a chain smoker for a time. It's hard to believe, but I probably smoked upwards of four packs of cigarettes a day at one point. It was easy then. You could smoke in the workplace, in restaurants, on airplanes, in your home, just about anywhere.

I was, thankfully, able to quit some-20 years ago. But fast forward those 20 years and I find myself still craving cigarettes in certain situations and under certain circumstances. After I quit and the smoke and the fog cleared, I started to worry about what impact my many years of smoking may have had on my health in general, but especially on my lungs. I remember being frustrated though, because it seemed I was more concerned about the negative impact of my smoking, than some of my health care professionals. I remember having to ask if it was time for a chest x-ray, wondering why there wasn't more monitoring being done, thinking that maybe I was overreacting. It wasn't long, before I began having some pretty scary asthma attacks during extreme activity, which led to a routine chest x-ray, and then a series of CT's for the next two years. And thus, began my journey.

In the years that followed, I became more painfully aware of what appeared to me to be obstacles seemingly put in place by some health insurance companies, and the disinterest by some doctors for people who are high-risk like me. Since early detection is key, I had to be proactive in my own health care. I had to be my own advocate to a degree that many can't or won't. Through my research and legwork and conversations with others, I came upon a program that was funded to offer free low-dose CT screenings for people at risk for lung cancer, and thankfully I qualified. That CT unexpectedly marked the beginning of the next chapter. Lung surgery. After a visit to my doctor, a second and third opinion, and additional screenings, it was determined that the area in question was considered suspicious for possible lung cancer. It was recommended to me that I undergo surgery to have it removed and biopsied.

After talking it through with my family, I went ahead with the surgery. Minimally invasive video-assisted thoracic surgery or VATS for short, to perform a lung resection of a suspicious pulmonary nodule. Fortunately for me it ended up not being cancer! For every one of me who has a positive outcome though, there are others who do not. Early detection is so important. With asthma, early stage emphysema, and other nodules to keep track of, I know that I'll have to be vigilant and monitor my lungs for the rest of my life. But all in all I'm lucky and healthy and much better off than many others. I've come to realize that just because I smoked doesn't mean I deserve lung disease or lung cancer. Nobody does! And it doesn't have to be my inevitable fate either.

We all need to be proactive in our own health care. We can't be afraid to ask questions of our doctors and the insurance companies. We can't just wait for the doctor's office to call us. If it's taking longer than expected to get results, call them. Ask for a copy of the results for any tests you have performed. Ask questions. Get second opinions. Make sure your doctor is getting the necessary pre-authorizations from your health insurance provider prior to testing. If a pre-authorization is denied by your insurance provider, ask your doctor to talk to them and find out why. If you don't click with a doctor or if you don't like him or her, find another doctor.

LUNG FORCE and the American Lung Association are instruments of action and a voice for so many, but we also need to find our voice, and take charge of our own care. It can be frustrating, stressful, aggravating, and time consuming, but it can also be life-saving and rewarding. Case in point, I was able to finish the American Lung Association Fight for Air Climb once again this year. All 46 floors. I was able to finish last year, a few weeks pre-surgery and I finished this year, a year and a few weeks post-surgery. I made the climb as a personal goal, because I could, because I'm thankful, and with all those who can't in my thoughts and on my heart.

First Published: July 31, 2017

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