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Elsie "Gaylene" G.

As a child I was sick a lot and was diagnosed with asthmatic bronchitis with bronchial pneumonia over and over again. I think I may have been destined to have lung cancer no matter what I did because of this. I developed a cough in late 2016 that continued to get worse through out 2017 until I had to give up an exercise class I facilitated and speaking in my Church as a coughing attack might hit at any time.

My primary care doctor had retired and the one I picked as a replacement ignored my complaints about coughing. I had been diagnosed with COPD about 7 years prior and I blamed it, until Thanksgiving Day 2017, when I became so sick I had a hard time talking on the phone. I then insisted that I be referred to a pulmonary specialist but at this time she didn't detect anything either.

When I attended a Better Breathers Club meeting someone suggested I see an allergy doctor, which I did. He tested me for allergies, prescribed some medications and, as an after thought, decided I should have a lung x-ray. Bingo. A mass growing out of my windpipe was discovered and a biopsy confirmed it was small cell squamous lung cancer.

The first oncologist I saw told me it was inoperative and incurable, but when I saw the next oncologist he said there was a 25% cure rate and that is what we would aim for. I did chemo first and that mixture gave me neuropathy throughout my entire body. It did go away, except for my feet and occasionally my fingers. After completing the chemo I did 25 sessions of the 35 radiation treatments ordered for me.

On the 26th day I woke up knowing I was supposed to be in Boise for a radiation treatment but didn't know much else. When I got to the hospital I was immediately transferred to the emergency room where it was determined I had infection everywhere and was sepsis. The radiation oncologist I had changed to stopped treatment because they felt I needed to get well. I, almost from day one of radiation, complained about the burning under my shoulder blade but nothing was done because the burns didn't show up as they were internal. They still bother me to this day, occasionally bad enough to force me to take a pain pill. After this treatment was stopped I was enrolled in pulmonary rehab for 3 months. It was great because I enjoy exercise and at first I built up strength then gradually that ended because the tumor was growing again and zapping my energy.

In February 2018, I started chemo again. I did not get neuropathy from this combination of chemo but it did make me so tired I couldn't do a lot so we cut it down to a manageable amount of fatigue. This combination thinned my hair but didn't cause it all to fall out as the previous chemo treatment did. I was glad of this because wearing wigs and scarfs got pretty tedious and I refused to go around bald. The oncologist ended the treatment after the July 15th infusion.

My immune system is compromised so I have to carry disinfectant wipes to clean a lot of things. I do try to avoid large crowds most of the time and wash my hands as much as I can stand to because of dryness. My CT scan in October showed the tumor is growing again and we are going to decide what to do in early December. My choice will be to do the chemo again. When I feel good, I try to exercise to maintain balance and some strength and socialize to maintain my mood. I feel the exercise is why I am still here but it is very hard to live with the fact I am not going to always recover from these harsh treatments.

First published: November 22, 2019

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Hero stories are the point of view of the Hero and not necessarily the American Lung Association. The Lung Association does not endorse any specific provider, facility or treatment.

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