Michelle M

Michelle M., NY

My name is Michelle McMahon and I am a lung cancer survivor. 

People may think that being a survivor of lung cancer defines who one is.It doesn’t, but no doubt it lends a dimension that cannot be ignored. I’m married and a mom to two great kids. I sew, I volunteer, I garden just like so many others in our world. I have to say however, being a survivor gave me an appreciation for all of these that, sometimes I think we all may take for granted.

I was diagnosed with Bronchoalveolar Carcinoma in 2009. Bronchoalveolar Carcinoma or BAC is a type of non-small cell lung cancer which is the most common type of lung cancer found in non-smokers. Despite the stigma that only smokers or former smokers can develop lung cancer , I was a never smoker. My environment growing up was non-smoking, and I lost my mother, who was also a non-smoker, to lung cancer when I was teenager.

My family had a history of developing cancer, so I always tried to live a healthy lifestyle knowing that these genes run in my family. I was 49 years old when I noticed a cough that wouldn’t quite go away. It was nagging, but I thought to myself that it was no big deal, that it must be allergies or a cold. My husband, who is an RN, kept telling me to get checked out.

I went and got checked and they sent me for X-rays. The X-rays did show something, but it presented itself as pneumonia. After a course of antibiotic therapy and no improvement noted, they did further testing. After going for a CAT scan, I was diagnosed with lung cancer.

I remember walking out to the car after receiving the diagnosis and being angry. I knew I had a family history; I lived a healthy lifestyle and still became ill.

Maybe in retrospect the anger was a good thing as it helped fuel my resolve to fight the fight and win!

I was informed by the diagnosing pulmonologist that the best course of treatment was surgery. We consulted a surgeon who, because of the aggressive nature of the cancer and the possibility of a recurrence offered a wedge resection procedure to minimize the loss of lung tissue. The pathology after the surgery dictated that a lobectomy was needed and I had a second surgery four months later.

Due to a genetic component and the type of cancer that I was diagnosed with, my cancer has a high likelihood of returning. I participated in a clinical trial for a drug designed to prevent cancer recurrence. I fortunately responded well to the testing and medication, and the drug has since been approved by the FDA.

Going from thoughts of having no control to realizing that I do have some, provided me with relief and purpose. From the first days of being sick, I kept notes and asked for lab results, X-ray and pathology reports and doctor visit reports. The control comes through being informed and making difficult decisions, with the advice of trusted practitioners and clinicians.

Faith and trust come into play, and not everybody has that, and not everybody keeps that. There were times when I faltered, but through the support of family and friends, I found myself restored and recovering.

Today I am 11 years cancer free. As I celebrate that, I continue to educate myself and others as well as use my personal experience to raise awareness around lung cancer. Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer. It kills more people each year than colon, prostate and breast cancer combined.

Most lung cancers are treatable if they are caught early, which is why I share my story today and as often as I can, to show the importance of knowing the signs and risks of lung cancer and going to a doctor when things don’t feel right. I share my story to show the importance of funding for research, tools for earlier diagnostics and better treatments. I share my story to show that lung cancer does not discriminate.

First Published: November 9, 2021

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