I thought for sure that I didn’t hear him correctly – lung cancer? After all, it was April Fools’ Day so this must be a cruel joke. Sadly, it wasn’t. The severe pain in my back that had mysteriously appeared weeks before and had me seeking emergency care, wasn’t coming from a slipped disk or pulled muscle in my back. Rather, it was caused by the pressure of a silver dollar-sized tumor in my right lower lobe.
And just like that, twelve days after my diagnosis, I was in the hospital preparing for R.A.T.S. (robotic-assisted thoracic surgery). The surgeon removed my right lower lobe and several lymph nodes. I felt a great sense of relief after the surgery, but soon came to realize that, though recovering from surgery was difficult, that chemotherapy and radiation treatments would be my greatest challenge.
I’m a “look at the silver lining” kind of person, so I felt lucky to be in Maryland. I was able to receive my radiation treatments at a hospital where they use a technology that harnesses protons in radiation, which in turn produces a pencil tip beam that directly targets cancer cells.
After 34 proton therapy treatments and four rounds of chemotherapy, I was deemed “cancer-free.” But that designation hasn’t calmed the emotional roller coaster I experience each round of CT scans and lab work every three months.
Back to the silver lining – I haven’t had to make this journey alone. My family was my safety net, providing emotional and physical support from day one. My friends rallied around me and carried me through some very tough days. In September, I returned to work (five months after my surgery). It was good to have something else to think about besides lung cancer. With that said, there really is no way of escaping my new reality. So instead, I decided to embrace it by participating in the Lung Force Walk, held in Washington, DC in October.
The walk was a great way to put a positive spin on this horrible disease, while at the same time, bringing awareness to a diagnosis that can have many dark days. It’s difficult to not look at statistics and think about what my future may hold. I try to focus on what I can do, and not what I cannot do. I’ve had some setbacks, but realize I still need to move forward – and take it one day at a time – knowing there are so many others who also traverse this road with me.