My story is a little different. I had JRA as a toddler which maimed both hips, so at 35 I had my first hip replacements. Twelve years later I had to have my left one replaced. Before major surgery you need a physical to make sure you are healthy enough to undergo surgery. They saw one spot on my lower right lobe, and a lymph node affected right outside the lung, so I was diagnosed with Stage 3A Lung Cancer at age 51.
I had smoked for 35 years, going out of the way to smoke. Light cigarettes plus a water filtered cigarette holder. My mother smoked until age 90, no cancer of any kind. So, my treatment was five weeks of radiation and light chemo. Then a lobectomy, followed by three heavy duty courses of chemo and lost all my hair.
It has now been 14 years, and in the meantime my sister got Stage 3A lung cancer. It was very aggressive and she was gone after 3 years, the last year in incredible agony. How do I feel as a survivor? Survivor’s Guilt. I’m nobody special, there is no reason I sailed through treatment like a breeze, without a single pain. It is only because it was caught early, having just barely spread to one lymph node. Radiation worked very well for me; the biopsy of the tumor showed nothing but scar tissue, no cancer left.
The first time I saw my onocologist I said to him, “Tell me the truth, at this point quitting smoking isn’t going to make a difference is it?” I didn’t want to go through hell on top of everything. But he said, “The thing is, radiation only works in the presence of oxygen, and every minute you smoke your body isn’t getting the oxygen it needs.” That made perfect sense to me, so I quit.
I was really lucky: it was found it early, it wasn’t aggressive, I tolerated radiation and chemo and all the treatment they recommended went really well. If there had been this light screening I would have gotten it, I was just lucky I needed surgery. I went through every kind of high-tech machine and test, and it went fine (I did have a pillow beneath my knees which eased pulling on my back and made me comfortable).
Two things happened, I felt it was my fault for smoking so I had no pity for myself and tolerated none, and I felt stupid because I had paid for the privilege of getting lung cancer. One thing that helped in quitting was every week I put my cig money aside and at the end of the year I took the $3,000 and bought a beautiful original oil painting to put above my fireplace. And now, 14 years later, I have saved about $42,000.
First published: December 9, 2019