My mother, Raelene, was experiencing shortness of breath and persistent bronchitis for a couple of months. After rounds of antibiotics that weren't working, she went through different tests and was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.
Her diagnosis hit us all like a ton of bricks and caught us all by surprise. She was a smoker for about 10 years beginning in her early 20s. She hadn't had a cigarette in decades, so this was a shock to all of us. After researching lung cancer further, I discovered that lung cancer is the #1 cancer killer in the country, surpassing breast cancer in 1987. I also learned that it's really not just a smoker's disease anymore. Lung cancer diagnosis happens when it's in its final stages (stages 3 and 4) because that's when symptoms start to appear; when it's too late. Every 5 minutes, a woman in the U.S. is told she has lung cancer.
In my mother's first appointment, she was told she had approximately six months to live. Six months. My mom was the bravest and one of the best people I have ever known. She tried approximately four different chemotherapy treatments within three years. These years were filled with numerous appointments, scans, throwing up, lethargy, depression, losing her hair, major weight loss, having to be put on an oxygen tank, and having to leave her job as a piano professor at a college. To try and kill the cancer, you're killing the rest of yourself also. You're doing it voluntarily in hopes of surviving, all while knowing there is no promise of survival. That's bravery.
In 2012, she found a chemotherapy treatment that worked. In fact, the cancer had stopped growing. She was in partial remission. The next 6-7 months were filled with positive reports and tears of joy. Within that time frame, she got to meet her first grandchild, Natalia, and experience the joy of being a grandma - something she had always wanted. Then without any warning, the chemotherapy stopped working the beginning of 2013. And our world came crashing down yet again. It spread to her liver and was no longer able to protect the rest of the body from the chemo. It was then that my mom stopped pursuing more treatments. She passed away in April 2013.
I believe that my mom's story doesn't need to be the norm. I believe that lung cancer doesn't have to be a death sentence. There needs to be more resources and awareness made available to the public. There's just not enough funding for lung cancer research. We need research funding so that we can find the cause and early detection for all those who haven't yet been diagnosed and more personalized treatments for those of us who have. I believe that further research can provide the means to detecting lung cancer to save lives -- and allow more grandmas to be grandmas.