I was a 46-year-old woman with a lot of life to live.
An IT Technician by trade, it was my nature to fix things. I was a single mom whose daughters were grown, graduated and successfully employed. I loved waterskiing, gardening, and building rock walls. I looked forward to painting, woodworking and time spent on motorcycle rides with my boyfriend.
On the day that I coughed up that dot-sized pinpoint of blood I felt stronger, healthier and better than I had in years. I could have ignored it. I wanted to ignore it. But I didn't.
Four months, five X-rays, three CT scans, a bronchoscopy, declined suggestions to "wait a few more months and see" and finally a needle biopsy -- it was lung cancer and I was sitting in a parking lot trying to figure out how to tell my children and family. Nothing. Was. Harder. Than. That.
Statistics are funny things. After the PET scan, stages, numbers and percentages were thrown around everywhere. STOP!!! No more statistics, I said. I won't talk about my stage because I refuse to let it define me. Look to the future and live. That is the plan. Always.
Lucky for me I had a team. There was my oncologist for chemo, my surgeon to remove tumor and some lung, my radiation oncologist to zap any other bits for good measure. I had the most compassionate nurses, techs and therapists that anyone could ever ask for. My family was supportive and friends came out in droves to help or to send a note of encouragement.
So you fight and fight and fight. You fight for yourself but you also fight for them because you know your success is what keeps their hope alive.
When my treatment and procedures were done, my whole team sighed a breath of relief and moved on to support the next person who so badly needed a team. No evidence of disease they said. Cured. Go, celebrate and be happy!
I wanted to celebrate but nothing seemed to be working the way it should. My hands and feet hurt. I lacked balance and energy. I couldn't concentrate and my short term memory was fuzzy at best. My employers were discouraged. Relationships suffered. I couldn't keep up. Normal, they said... Breathe! Be happy to be alive! I was. Really, I was. I just wanted to FEEL alive too.
It took the rest of my energy but it was worth it. I found a new team, one with the tools I needed to move forward: speech therapy to reverse chemo brain (yes, that is a real thing), neurology for my feet, and rheumatology for inflammation. Rehab exercises designed specifically to help cancer patients regain strength, balance and to encourage faster healing, reiki for energy, and a patient advocate who helped protect my job thru this whole process. This is the team that pulled me back together.
I fought for myself, but also for others. If you are experiencing similar symptoms, please know there ARE workable solutions! Don't wait or be too proud to ASK your primary to be referred to these specialists.
I've allowed my case to be used in educational presentations to area primary and oncologists. By successfully increasing their awareness of solutions for post-treatment symptoms, PCPs now recognize their importance in the handoff between the two teams and referrals to these other specialties are becoming a routine part of continuance of care for cancer patients in our area.
Although this diagnosis left my children with anxiety, my parents with fear, and myself, without a partner, and nearly without a job, not to mention a little less lung and I feel whole again.
I'm back to fixing things. I am a 50-year-old woman with a lot of life to live.
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