LUNG FORCE Heroes
I am here today because of early intervention. I was a smoker and my primary care doctor, Mary Jenkins, always ordered a chest x-ray as part of my annual physical. This time, June 2009, my chest x-ray results showed a spot on my right lung. I called the following months the summer from ”hell” as I had one test after another, rounds of antibiotics, and several scans with and without contrast. Finally, in August, a chest specialist ordered a Petscan. A few days later, on a beautiful summer day, my life changed forever when the doctor informed me over the phone that my scan “lit up like a Christmas tree” and that the spot, most likely a malignant tumor, had to be removed immediately.
I had just buried my father in January 2008 and my stepmother in June of 2007. Both had passed from lung cancer. My father’s lung cancer wasn’t discovered until he had surgery for an aneurism. Despite his sudden weight loss, fatigue and shortness of breath, his doctors did not explore other possibilities for the declining health in this once vital, energetic man. I became my father’s caregiver for the next eight months. A child should not have to watch a parent die. I couldn’t help but think that something had to have been missed along the way. He was a smoker his whole life and despite the numerous chest x-rays to monitor his aneurism, the lung cancer was not evident until it was too late. The words terminal and incurable took away my dad’s will to live. It made my experience with lung cancer that more traumatic.
As I watched my father dying of lung cancer, I stopped smoking cigarettes cold turkey. I was 20 years old when I started to smoke, probably smoking a pack a day until I was about 30. After our daughter was born, I made a rule that there would be no more smoking in the house and I cut down to about two to five cigarettes a day. But I still smoked!
Knowing I needed lung surgery, I was determined to find the best doctor using the most innovative procedures. This led me to Dr. Todd Weiser and Mount Sinai Hospital. My surgery was done on September 21, 2009. I had VATS (video -assisted thoracic surgery) and Dr. Weiser removed a 1cm non-small cell adenocarcinoma along with the upper lobe of my right lung. I was on a respirator for about eight hours, had three small holes in my chest and tubes everywhere. I spent only four days in the hospital. The first day was the most painful, especially the chest tube. Before discharging me, I remember having to climb a flight of stairs. I felt like a baby learning to walk all over again. I could feel my lungs straining for air, but I was determined to get well. You see, right before I went into the hospital my daughter gave me all the motivation I needed to live…I was going to be a grandmother!
My surgery was a success. Because my lung cancer was detected so early, I needed no chemotherapy or radiation. Initially, I went for checkups every three months, then every six months, and now every two years. Each visit is stressful but Dr. Weiser who is now head of thoracic surgery at White plains Hospital reassures me that I am “cured”.
I’ve had some side effects since the surgery. I now have severe asthma and take medication every day to regulate it. Fortunately, I haven’t had an attack in four years. I’ve become a “gym rat” and go to Orange Theory Fitness four times a week. I just completed my 500th class. The increased cardio work has improved my lung capacity and strength. I’ve lost twenty pounds, eat healthy and am more determined than ever to dance at my grandchildren’s weddings.
I’ve been retired from my job as an educator for almost fifteen years, but I feel my work here is not done. I have this sense that there is something else I should be doing. I believe that sharing my story and educating others about early intervention could be it.
I am here today because of a routine chest x-ray. I’ve learned and what I want others to know is that if you diagnose something bad early enough, your chances of survival are better. Listen to your body! Take control of your health and if you smoked, get screened for lung cancer. It can save your life! It’s what saved mine.
First published: February 7, 2019
American Lung Association is solely responsible for content.
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.