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Karen L

Karen smiling wearing a red shirt

I will celebrate 19 years of survivorship following concurrent diagnoses and surgeries for ovarian and uterine cancers in January 2016. Apparently, that wasn't enough for me though, as fate had a new obstacle to put in my path. In late November of 2012, I was diagnosed with stage 4 non small cell lung cancer. Like so many others, my lung cancer was found by accident as I sought answers from a series of doctors, ending with a gastroenterologist, to recurrent "chest" attacks. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the frequent multi-day bouts of hoarseness that brought no sore throat or feeling of illness had also been symptomatic of lung cancer. Now, with much more understanding of this disease under my belt, I know that and other telltale symptoms.

I chose from my date of initial diagnosis to share my story with many friends and relatives as a way to both inform and educate others, but also to be cathartic for myself. Putting my thoughts and experiences in writing helped me process what was happening, and it also helped me to organize my understanding and lay out questions that needed answers. I continue to use this technique three years on into my lung cancer journey and it is still serving me well.

The first year, I faced chemotherapy cocktails and the attendant side effects, including baldness, peripheral neuropathy and severe itching. During the process, I continued to learn about my disease... and about myself. It was a time when I, necessarily, turned inward for a time and did what was needed to figure out what was happening and where it was taking me.

Having gotten my feet under me, so to speak, after that first year or so, I began earnestly seeking and accepting speaking opportunities and other ways to advocate and fundraise for research and improved education related to lung cancer. This led me to self-publish the letters I had written during the first 9 months of my journey as a way to share my experience, the experience of a patient looking out from the inside, with those who might find it helpful and hopefully inspirational.

My goal, as I continue treatment (I'm currently on my 3rd line therapy which is Nivolumab), is to advocate and educate about lung cancer anywhere and everywhere I am given the opportunity to do so. I believe in the well-worn cliche, "if life gives you lemons... make lemonade!" I also believe that, while no one wants to be faced with a disease like lung cancer, some of us who are faced with it are blessed to be able to use our position as "public patients" to try hard to make a positive difference for the many who will come after us.

In the long run, I hope my legacy will be one of making a real difference in this battle against lung cancer.

First published: December 21, 2015

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