Little did I know that the pain I was feeling in my right shoulder would be the start of my cancer journey but that is how it all started. For months I had put up with the nagging pain that occurred in my shoulder. I attributed it to exercise and the strain I was putting on it. The pain continued to worsen over time and then became excruciating when I laid down. I decided it was time to investigate further.
My journey starts there. After a few MRIs and a CT scan, I was told I had fluid on my lungs. I was scheduled for thoracic surgery to drain the fluid from my lungs and to find out why the fluid was accumulating. During this surgery a cancerous mass was found, and I was diagnosed with stage 4 NSCLC caused by the A.L.K. gene mutation. I was unaware of this type of lung cancer caused by a gene mutation, and I did not know what that meant for me.
I have since learned that this type of cancer makes up about 2-5% of all lung cancer patients. Most are nonsmokers or light smokers between the ages of 30 and 60. However, I have learned about survivors that are as young as 17. This type of lung cancer is rare but the good news is that it can be treated by targeted therapy.
I was diagnosed in March, 2017 at the age of 50. This diagnosis came as a complete surprise to me and my family. “How can this be?” is what kept going through my mind. I led a healthy lifestyle but learned that cancer can happen to anyone. My family and I are adjusting to our new "normal". We have good days and bad days. I have learned to fully embrace life but I would be lying if I didn't say that I have days when I feel sorry for myself. During these difficult times, I try to focus on all the good things such as I am still living, thriving in fact, and I am very hopeful. I am currently taking my first targeted therapy medication. I am feeling well, back to working full time and I remain optimistic. However, I know that at some point the cancer will get smart and learn how to get around this treatment. I will need to move on to another option but eventually my options will run out.
Cancer takes away a lot from its patients and leaves you feeling very helpless. I can't do anything to control the cancer but I can share my story to make others aware that lung cancer can affect anyone. If you have lungs, you can get lung cancer. I have been a supporter of the American Lung Association for some time. So many people are affected by lung disease. It not only affects the patients but their families too. We need to get more people educated on lung diseases. I feel it's important to support funding research and treatment as well as educational materials. We are stronger together.