In 2019 I was 39, and looking forward to my 40th birthday. I wanted it to be a healthy milestone, so I joined a kickboxing bootcamp. By the end, I felt amazing but thought I had pulled a muscle in my chest. It was slight, but hurt when I breathed deeply. I was still tired a lot, but as a single mom of a teenager, who isn’t? My doctor and I treated for muscle pain, allergies, pneumonia, nothing worked. By Fall the pain was still there, and one of my favorite parts of life, laughing, made me spiral into a cough though I didn’t have a cold.
When you’re sick like this, people avoid talking about lung disease. You’re told not to Google, because it’ll tell you “the worst.” Doctors were protective, saying “We’re just doing a CT as a precaution, to rule out something worse.” By November I knew that it was indeed “something worse.” A bronchoscopy revealed I had NSC Lung Cancer, Stage 3.
So, I celebrated my 40th birthday pursuing a different type of health, in the middle of chemo and radiation. Treatment has taken a toll; I will have lifelong side effects. However, it’s working; late Summer, the scans showed remission and potentially no cancer visible! It’s incredible news and thanks to great advancements like immunotherapy, I’ve got a chance of being part of the 20% that survive longer than 5 years. We’re in an amazing time, where discoveries are being made that could greatly increase that 20%, and give me many more than 5 extra years. That’s a difference that will let me see my daughter graduate, maybe even see college graduation and many years beyond.
One of the biggest questions I asked myself is how I got cancer and how I could have prevented it. Before this I didn’t know over 70% of the homes in my state have radon, and I often wonder which ones I lived in might have contributed. I’ve never smoked, and have been lucky to live in areas smoking bans are in place in restaurants, but I worry about friends and relatives that smoke, and that vaping is still so accessible to kids. I couldn’t say if air pollution was a factor, we just don’t have enough monitoring. I know that the real answer is sometimes we don’t know the causes, so much more research and prevention is needed. I’m now looking forward to my 41st birthday, finishing up treatment, and hopefully more cancer-free scans. I’m excited to see what we can do to keep understanding and pursuing lung health, and how I can use what I’ve learned to help protect others. I’m looking forward to rebuilding my health that cancer’s taken away, looking forward to “normal” and hopefully many, many years of birthdays ahead.