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Nancy L.

This is story is not about me but my mother and I call her story Joan’s Journey.

My mom passed of complications from lung cancer and treatment Nov 2nd, 2018 at 76 years of age. My mom led a very healthy, busy, active life; traveling, spending time with family and volunteering in her community. Over the past few years, her health seemed to decline somewhat as she struggled with some health challenges like cataracts, constant colds and a bout of shingles. She knew that something wasn’t quite right and went multiple times to see her family physician with a persistent cold and cough. My mom was never a smoker and at no time did the physician order a Chest Xray.

In Feb 2018, she walked into a plate glass window and her partner insisted she go to the hospital. It was there that they discovered a small tumor in her left lung and diagnosed lung cancer. The following 8 months were a blur of doctor's appointments, deteriorating health, multiple visits to emergency, scans, blood tests, MRIs, chemo, radiation and a very difficult time for our family.

My mom was a fighter and was determined to defeat cancer. She had fought breast cancer 10 years prior and was determined to do whatever she could to bring herself back to health. Unfortunately, by the time the cancer was diagnosed, she was stage IV with a mestatis to the brain. The brain cancer was treated successfully with stereotatic radiation but we were not so lucky with the lung cancer. It tooks months to properly diagnose, the initial biopsy did not extract sufficient tissue and she had to undergo a lung biopsy to extract more tissue to test for possible immunoptherapy treatment. I knew something was wrong when, after a desperate call to our oncologist after a month, that they kept delaying to get the results back. It turned out that she tested negative for all 48 markers.

After 4 months of waiting, we were back to chemo and radiation. During this time we made three desperate trips to emergency. My mom was staying with me so she could be close to the hospital and our days were a blur of getting her up in the morning where she spent over two hours coughing up cups of fluid from her lungs. By that time she was exhausted and usually collapsed on the couch making it difficult to get her meds and some food into her. There was no one braver than my mom who, every day, put on a brave face and was determined to start every day with more determination. I had difficult fighting back the tears as I held her and tried to calm her coughing, finally begging for the hospital to do something for her.

She eventually went on oxygen but again was determined to fight. By this time she was using a walker and she bravely asked to go for walks to get her lungs exercised. We knew the diagnosis was terminal, but we were naive to think that she could live with treatment and we would be able to share life with her for a few more years. She eventually was admitted to hospital with pneumonia. As her vitals deterioriated she finally decided she wanted to go home.

The day I picked her up at the hospital was one of the most peaceful days with her, it was a beautiful, sunny fall day. When I arrived at the hospital there she was with her feet up on the window basking in the sun with her bags packed. I’ll never forget this vision and moment. It is so typical of my mom, completely at peace and basking in the sun. The three hour drive home was momentous as she thoroughly took in everything on the drive; the beaming sunshine, the sparkling change in colors of the trees. One week later, she was admitted with cardiac issues. The day she passed she called her partner Robert and was so excited as her vitals were perfect that morning and she could hardly wait to get home. She ate a full dinner that night and my sister and Robert left her for a peaceful sleep hoping to get her home by the weekend. She never survived and died of cardiac arrest that evening.

I’m not naive to think that you can cure all cancers, but I am on a mission to find better treatment for lung cancer and dispel the myth that this is a smoker’s cancer. I also have become an advocate for living your last days with cancer on your terms which may mean no treatment at all. Although I know the whole medical community is working diligently to find solutions for this terrible type of cancer. I also believe that the invasive nature of treatments such as chemo and radiation often not only delay the advancement of cancer, but are also the eventual cause of death and have a signficant impact on a person’s qualify of life in those last few months/days.

Since losing my mom, I have opened my own foundation and proceeds are used to assist with research specifically for lung cancer and also to support charities that my mom spent many fond hours volunteering for and supporting. Joan’s Journey is not ending with her passing on November 2, 2018. It continues through the foundation, the stories that I share, travels to Ireland and Africa in her memory where she dreamt of traveling, and helping charities in these locations which would have been her living wish.

Miss your terribly mom, every day!

First published: December 2, 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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