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Sandra K.

I am a woman of 67 years and retired. I have five children and four grandchildren. I'm a licensed counselor for mental health and addiction. I have spent the last 20 years working in the counseling field. For several years, I worked with adults and teens who suffered with alcohol and drug addiction. Later, I worked as a school guidance counselor. I am proud of the career I chose and the opportunity I have had in helping others with mental health issues and addiction.

After suffering for about twenty years with COPD, in January 2014, I was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer, stage IV. The doctors told me it had spread to my lymph nodes. Believe me, those four words, "You have lung cancer," changed my life, and instead of helping others, now I had to work on helping me. I was scared and angry.

After hearing those four words, I came home and went through every bill, birth certificate, and tax forms getting it all in order for my husband because he had no idea where those things were and what to do. It took weeks to get it all in order - the important papers, insurance, and yes even the will which we always seemed to put off thinking, maybe next year. I kept thinking that I would run out of time. I was preparing to die.

My oncologist sent me for all the routine tests and procedures to find the size, type and stage of my cancer. I went to a thoracic surgeon. He wanted to shrink the tumor first before surgery, so I started with chemo immediately. But, my pulmonologists lung specialist felt removing part of my lung would have meant me probably never being able to get off my sofa or perhaps being in a wheelchair. We both knew that my lungs were just too weak to sustain my body should I have the surgery. I made the decision to do chemo and then radiation.

During my first chemo session, my oncologist came to me and told me I had a small lesion on my brain and I needed to stop the chemo to do brain surgery. It was all happening so fast; it was like a whirl wind. Luckily, I was able to have laser knife surgery to take care of my brain lesion. I did not mind the chemo, but I dreaded the radiation that I knew was coming next. I listened to my oncologist doctor, but it was important for me that I be kept informed, and be in the decision making process. I needed all my questions answered honestly. That was important to me. I decided to research other forms of treatment and discovered a more precise and direct form of radiation that would cause less damage to my lungs, heart and esophagus. This is the path I chose to take.

Just as the patients I have guided to help them realize their worth, I finally realized my life still had purpose and meaning, and I was going to fight this disease with a vengeance. I took back control of my life. This was the turning point for me. I was no longer preparing to die, but rather fighting to live. I knew the importance of the power of positive thinking. For the past year and eight months my Pet Scans, CT scan and MRI's have shown NED (no evidence of disease). I am now on another line of defense, I take Tarceva, which can have some pretty bad side effects. I understand that Valerie Harper and President Jimmy Carter are taking Tarceva and doing well. I believe it is not just one treatment that has allowed me to survive this terrible disease but a combination of treatments and doctors working together. I feel that it is important that I say on behalf of me and all lung cancer patients "We thank you and appreciate all the hard work and research that is being done to treat and cure lung cancer."

I am retired but I am still most eager to continue in helping to serve others by telling my story, talking with other cancer patients, and helping new cancer patients identify those feelings that only another cancer patient can understand. That is why I am posting this message today. I am proud and honored to be a part of LUNG FORCE.

First Published: May 10, 2016

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