Days before my 50th birthday in August 2014, I went to work feeling ill, but tried to push through it. My co-workers insisted I go to the ER as I did not look well. Taking their advice, a day at the ER came with a diagnosis that I may have pneumonia. I was treated with antibiotics and told to follow up with my primary care doctor.
In September, I made a visit to my doctor and she reviewed the chest x-rays. She didn't like what she saw and suggested a CT-scan with contrast. I was then referred to a pulmonologist and I went through a battery of tests. I knew something wasn't right. The day before Thanksgiving, I was given the bad news that I had Stage III B non-small cell lung cancer and tested ALK positive. The news blindsided me because I am a non-smoker and fairly healthy. After all the tears and my head cleared, I thought to myself what were the signs that I missed? Little did I know that over the past year the persistent chest pains, the irritating and ongoing cough, sore throat and shortness of breath were warning signs of this disease that I was oblivious to. I wish I had been more knowledgeable of lung cancer and listened to my body, and attended to those symptoms. The doctor tried to brighten the situation by telling me that there has been research, genome testing and specific medications have been found to attack this type of specific cancer cell gene. The oncologist further enlightened me with information on non-small cell lung cancer that was ALK positive and I was put on targeted oral chemo therapy and prescribed Xalkori (which I will take for the rest of my life, as long as there is no new cancer cell growth). I am grateful because this therapy allows me to continue to work and travel. Medications, juicing and eating more nutritiously are helping me deal with the side effects of the Xalkori. I am blessed to have great family, friends and co-workers who support me throughout this journey. I've become involved with my local American Lung Association and its LUNG FORCE to advocate for further lung cancer research - and to educate the world of these eye-opening facts: every five minutes, a woman in the US is told she has lung cancer; the lung cancer death rate in women has more than doubled over the past 35 years; and ANYONE can get lung cancer. Let us remove the stigma of lung cancer, one strong breath at a time!