Lung cancer snuck up on me. I was healthy. I never thought I could be at risk for lung cancer. Fortunately, a targeted therapy called afatanib is helping me live well with lung cancer.
In September 2015, while hiking in Colorado, I had to stop to catch my breath, but attributed that to the high altitude. Though I was exceptionally tired during our huge annual Halloween party, I just thought I was out of shape. By Thanksgiving, I was coughing, exhausted, and didn’t feel like cooking, so we celebrated with neighbors and friends.
I wanted to be healthy enough to take care of my three-year-old grandson in early December while his new sister was coming into the world, so I went to the doctor. I had a chest x-ray, and was told I had pneumonia. I was given antibiotics and instructions to return for a follow up in a few weeks. I was very sick in December, dragging myself through the holidays. Because of my cough, we all assumed I might be contagious, so I kept my distance from my grandchildren.
In January I had another x-ray, but didn’t learn anything except that I had lost eight pounds. I was still coughing and exhausted. My doctor ordered a CT scan, which led to a PET scan. The pulmonologist (a lung specialist) was 99% sure I had lung cancer. A bronchoscopy confirmed it. I was devastated.
I went into surgery in hopes of removing all the cancer, but during the surgery the doctor discovered my cancer had spread to the lining of my chest cavity. I was officially diagnosed with Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer (adenocarcinoma) with the EGFR Exon 19 deletion in late February.
Since March 2016, I have been on an oral targeted therapy call afatinib, and it’s working! I am still adjusting to my “new normal,” but plan on having many more adventures while living with lung cancer. I recently biked the Virginia Creeper Trail with my husband, Joe, and some dear friends. We hosted a Halloween themed engagement party for my son and his fiancé this year, and had hundreds of trick-or-treaters visit us. I’m living life, having fun, and hoping for a cure.
I’m also helping raise funds for the Lung Cancer Initiative of North Carolina, which works to raise awareness about lung cancer and provide funding for badly needed research. I walked a mile this year in the LUNGE FORWARD 5k in Charlotte; next year I plan on walking the entire course!
I have learned more than I ever wanted to know about lung cancer. I want everyone to know these facts:
- If you have lungs, you can get lung cancer.
- If you have a cough that lasts for more than three weeks, see your doctor.
- If you’re diagnosed with stage 4 adenocarcinoma lung cancer, your tumor tissue should be tested for EGFR as well as ALK and ROS1 mutations.
Targeted therapies for EGFR, ALK, and ROS1 can help you live well with metastatic lung cancer. I’m looking forward to much more time with my grandchildren!