Mandi P., OK
In December of 2019 I was diagnosed with bronchitis. I was at the doctor’s office with my husband while he was being treated for strep throat. “You sound horrible,” the doctor said after noticing my cough. She listened to my breathing and put me on an antibiotic for bronchitis.
Five days later, I found myself on an ambulance after having stroke-like symptoms at work. There was no answer for the episode. Did I have an allergic reaction to an antibiotic, one that I had taken before with no side-effects? Was it a panic or anxiety attack, which I had also never before experienced? I was never given a conclusive medical explanation, but it was while I was at the ER that a doctor found a four-centimeter mass on the upper left lobe of my lung. They began treating me for pneumonia (another antibiotic) and sent me home.
Two sets of x-rays later, with no shrinkage of the mass, it was determined I needed a CT scan, followed by a trip to a pulmonologist. Due to the size of the mass, the pulmonologist ordered a PET scan immediately. Walking in to have a PET scan administered at a cancer center was a reality check for me. It was that moment I knew something could be seriously wrong. The very next day my worst fears were confirmed, “I’m very sorry to tell you this, but it is cancer.”
After further testing on my brain, the doctors determined the rest of my body was clear, and we were dealing with an isolated mass on my lung. Two procedures later, including a lung lobectomy, I was given news that further turned my world upside down; the cancer had been found in 13 lymph nodes. My initial oncologist was brutally honest with the statistics. If 100 people received the same diagnosis, only fifteen would live; there is only a 15% chance to live five years; there is an 85% chance of disease recurrence.
What? I was only 32 years old with two precious young children who need me. I exercise several days a week and live a healthy lifestyle. I eat organic food. More shockingly, I am not a smoker. How could this be possible?
After learning more about lung cancer, I was astounded how common it is becoming for nonsmokers (especially young women and mothers) to get this horrible disease, but the most distressing part was learning about the lack of funding due to the stigma surrounding lung cancer.
I decided early on that I would not be a statistic (not quietly anyway). There had to be something more to this. Somewhere between being diagnosed and finishing treatment, I ultimately realized that the episode that happened at work and led me to the ER was not coincidental. I believe with all my heart it was God. My pastor has always said God never wastes a hurt, and there is purpose in your pain. That resonates so perfectly to me. Now, I am working to do anything within my ability to speak out and raise awareness for lung cancer. I have found my purpose.
I have an EGFR gene mutation (epidermal growth factor receptor). EGFR is a protein on cells that helps them grow. A mutation in the gene for EGFR can make it grow too much, which can cause cancer. However, after four rounds of chemo and twenty-five proton therapy sessions, I am currently cancer free. I take a daily targeted immunotherapy drug, which works to keep me disease free. I am so blessed to have this drug as an option, but even more treatment options are coming as research continues. This is why I am proud to partner with the American Lung Association. Thanks to medical breakthroughs led by Lung Association research and their colleagues worldwide, significant contributions to the field of lung cancer have been made in the last five years and are continuing to be made.
While I do not know what the future holds for me, I am healthy NOW. I have two amazing children, Nolan and Jolie, who think I am superwoman, and my husband Brandon has been by my side through it all. Going through what I have been through has been a blessing in a way. I truly appreciate each and every day on this earth. The small things really mean something to me. I choose to live my life cherishing each moment and not worrying about time. I choose faith over fear!
I am an Overcomer.
First Published: February 22, 2021
Double Your Donation Today
This #GivingWeek, your donation means more than ever. Your support goes directly to our clean air and lung health initiatives, including ending COVID-19.
For a limited time every gift you make will be matched up to $100,000.
Thank you! You will now receive email updates from the American Lung Association.