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Julie R

My mother was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer in October 2014 at the age of 61 years old. She was otherwise healthy and was a non-smoker so the diagnosis came as a bit of a shock to our family.

Upon diagnosis, she was found to have metastasis to her lymph nodes in the chest, liver, bone and brain making her stage 4. She also developed dysphagia due to metastasis to her right recurrent laryngeal nerve. She was given a prognosis of 3-6 months of life.

The upcoming months included sessions of whole brain radiation therapy and chemotherapeutics. She was hospitalized twice within the first 4 months, once for dehydration/vomiting and fatigue due to her treatments and the other for unexplained fever for which she was also found to have a deep vein thrombosis. By her second hospitalization, she was not able to ambulate independently.

Despite her treatments and hospitalizations, she pushed forward and the summer of 2015 she gained back her energy and was able to enjoy many of her typical daily activities. Her PET scan demonstrated some regression of a few areas of metastasis and her MRI of the brain did not have recurrence.

In October of 2015 she walked in the Pittsburgh LUNG FORCE Walk, albeit slower than her normal pace but independent of anyone helping her. She was able to enjoy the holidays with family and even started back with some of her work - making crafts and patterns - online.

In January of 2016, the chemo she was on at that time was no longer working and she developed recurrence in her brain. She underwent stereotactic radio surgery for the new metastasis in the brain.

Again, despite the bad news, she continued to fight. She was able to enjoy another birthday with family and wedding anniversary with my father. The summer of 2016 was a little more difficult but she still managed to enjoy time at our family cabin on Lake Erie. She always loved the sunsets and calming waves of the lake.

She underwent another round of stereotactic radio surgery for recurrent metastasis in her brain in September of 2016. She also underwent radiation to spine metastasis which was causing pain.

Unfortunately she passed on November 2, 2016 after she was found to have a malignant pleural effusion that continued to recur. Amazingly, she made it 2 years from diagnosis which far exceeded what she was originally told. She endured so much in the last two year but not once thought to give up. She fought up until the very day she passed.

I tell her story in hopes that others will see that despite being given a prognosis of 3-6 months, she defied the odds through her fighting spirit and made it to 2 years. I also want to bring more attention to this disease because she was a young, healthy and active woman who was taken away from this earth way before her time.

The first question people would ask once they found out she had lung cancer was how much did she smoke, even though she did not smoke. I think we need to continue to work on lung cancer awareness and the stigma that surrounds this diagnosis so we can break the barriers for funding.

I hope this story will help others to not feel alone in the fight of this horrible disease.

First published: November 23, 2016

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