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Cynthia M.

Hi there – My name is Cindi McDowell from Pittsburgh, and I am celebrating my 62nd birthday! I was 11 years old when I started smoking. It was easy – my dad was a smoker, and he always had cartons of cigarettes with multiple open packs lying around the house. He never missed a couple of cigarettes out of this pack, a couple out of that pack. I eventually worked that up to 2+ packs a day (menthol).

My dad passed away after suffering through five different cancers – skin, colon, bladder, throat, and pancreatic. I finally quit smoking 35 years after I started when, at the ripe old age of 46 – Christmas Eve 2003 – my thoracic surgeon removed the top lobe of my right lung. Who ever thinks that they will have a thoracic surgeon! Who ever thinks that they will be spending Christmas Eve in the ICU, with their husband just a few rooms down the hall trying to catch a nap!

A chest x-ray had been ordered because of a 1x (very severe) pain in the middle of my chest. My PCP decided to have an x-ray done BECAUSE I WAS A SMOKER. Lucky for me the radiologist reading this initial x-ray had eagle vision and noticed what turned out to be a stage 1A tumor. I did not need chemo or radiation treatment – this time! I was laid up for a few months, but after that was able to resume all normal activities. Fast forward six and a half years – June 2010. During a routine follow-up scan, it was discovered that the cancer had returned (Stage III) and spread to the lymph nodes in the same area of the lung that had been removed. I had not been experiencing any symptoms. I endured 28 sessions of radiation therapy, along with several months of chemo (thanks, Kathie, for being there with me). Though not easy, I didn’t have it as bad as some I’ve heard about – everyone is different.

When I lost my hair, my husband Sean and I visited a studio in Greensburg Pa – Skysight Photography – for a photo session with Autumn, who was working on a special project – Facing Hope – The Cancer Project. She published a book with the photos and stories of 15 cancer patients/survivors, and we were honored to be included in this compilation.

In August 2017, a follow-up scan showed some shadowing on my left lung. I had two “wedge-ectomies” – one upper lobe, one lower lobe. These polyps were benign, but the experience was scary just the same. Here we are in January 2019, and I am now – this time - 8 years cancer-free. I don’t have to use oxygen (yet), though I do experience severe shortness of breath with just the slightest exertion. There are no long (or short, for that matter) walks in the park, no hikes, no activities that require any stamina – I just don’t have it. But I do have a husband (Sean) who loves me dearly and who worries about me more than I do. He has been with me throughout the entire journey, and has been and continues to be my rock. I am tremendously grateful that he is in my life-I don’t know how I would have made it through otherwise. I am, though, somewhat disappointed that our retirement years may not be as exciting as we would like – given my physical limitations – but because of the great care I have received over the years it looks like at least there will be retirement years!

“Life is not about waiting for the rain to pass – it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” Be strong – cry – stay positive – laugh – get healthy – eat chocolate – be grateful – throw things (gently) – dance in the rain – do whatever helps and whatever makes you feel good! Peace and good vibes to all.

First published: January 10, 2019

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