Sheila  P

Sheila P.

I was first diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007 when I was 47 years old, so my journey has spanned about 14 years so far.

Initially, they thought I had pneumonia, but I wasn’t improving with treatment. I was sent to a pulmonologist next, and I asked for a biopsy because my dad died of lung cancer when he was 57 years old. They found a 15 mm tumor. It was small cell carcinoma. I just wanted it out of my body as soon as possible. That mass was removed 2 days later.

Adding to all the physical and emotional trauma I was experiencing, my insurance ran out when my husband was laid off from his job. My doctors wouldn’t see or treat me anymore without insurance.

I was so fortunate to be referred to Brown Cancer at the University of Louisville and they treated me. I can absolutely say access to quality, affordable care is a lifesaver.

I was cancer-free for 6 years after my first diagnosis, and I thought it was all behind me. But, it returned in 2013. The mass was removed again by such a caring doctor and then I had radiation treatment. The problem is that there’s less and less lung tissue left with each surgery, and that compromises not just my breathing, but all my body functions.

So, I’ve had radiation in 2015 and again in 2017. Most recently in 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, I began chemotherapy and Keytruda. The chemo compromised my immune system and I was really struggling with the side-effects, so I’ve dropped it and I’m on another immunotherapy drug now.

Also, after a year-long battle, physical and occupational therapy finally was approved along with other essential in-home treatments. This wouldn’t be possible without our insurance. Even though my husband should be retired now, he’s still working so we can keep the insurance that’s covering my treatment and medications today. The costs are outrageous. Our out-of-pocket costs over the last 14 years total more than $100,000.

I’ve found inspiration along the way from my family. My husband’s support has been so important, and my son’s efforts on my behalf have literally kept me going.

I would really love for the healthcare community to do low dose CT scans at younger ages. More young people are being diagnosed now. These scans should be part of annual physicals. My son can’t get scanned because he isn’t old enough, and this could cost him his life especially with our family history.

You also need to reach out to others who are going through the same things you are. It’s so scary and you might not feel comfortable at first talking about your feelings and emotions with your family, but if you talk to others who are going through the same things you are, then you can get enough nerve and strength to talk with your family members about how you really feel. Some people even start their own support groups. You need support in your community, too. The American Lung Association and Gilda’s Club have been so inspirational.

My motto is, “Don’t give up, and don’t give-in.” My latest scan updates will be ready in just a few days and our fingers are crossed for good news. There’s always the fight; there’s always a chance to get better and get beyond this.

First Published: February 26, 2021

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