Victoria G

Victoria G., AK

My mom, Doreen, the beautiful women in the picture, was just 55 years old when she was first diagnosed with lung cancer.  Prior to the diagnosis my mom was seen twice by health professionals because she was experiencing chest pains and difficulty breathing.  The pain was so intense we had to call 911 on one occasion.  She said “it feels like an elephant is on my chest and I can’t catch my breath.”  On both occurrences, she was advised that the symptoms were most likely due to panic attacks or anxiety. 

It was on her third visit, with the same symptoms, that someone decided to do a lung x-ray.  The year was 1994 and I was pregnant with my one and only child when my mom called to inform me she has lung cancer.  The news was devasting.  Just as I’m about to bring a new life into this world, we were now faced with the real possibility of losing a life, my treasure, my hero, my mom.  She suffered through it all: radiation, chemotherapy, hair loss, extreme pain, exhaustion, and depression.  The intense radiation even affected her esophagus and made it difficult for her to swallow anything.  Despite all the pain, she tried to maintain a positive attitude and we all hoped the treatments would work. 

The treatments worked and we celebrated five more years with my mom.  Then the lung cancer returned.  This time it was different, and the prognosis was not good.  The cancer came back and had spread to her bones before they found it.  The pain was so extreme that she did not want to live like that and even contemplated doctor-assisted suicide, but the cancer took her before she could make that decision.  While it was difficult to watch my mom suffer from the cancer treatments, it was even more devasting to watch the cancer take over her body and spirit.  She died in 1999; she was only 60 years old.  She is loved and missed by so many people.     

As a result of losing my mom to lung cancer, I have dedicated my life to reduce lung cancer and improve lung cancer screenings and treatments.  Over the years, I have volunteered with the American Cancer Society and American Lung Association to advocate for lung cancer funding and increase on tobacco taxes. Research demonstrates when the cost of tobacco increases, tobacco use rates drop with youth, an effective strategy to prevent the initiation of tobacco use.  I found the volunteer work to be healing and rewarding but I wanted to do more.  Therefore, I completely changed my career path from business to community health with a focus on tobacco prevention and cessation. I’m currently working for an organization on health system changes to improve the way we screen for lung cancer, early detection of lung cancer, and improve lung cancer services for better health outcomes.  I wish my mom was still here and I would give almost anything to have her back.  I honor and keep her memory alive everyday as I work to reduce suffering and death due to lung cancer. 

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