I am a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a best friend, a nurse and a survivor living with lung cancer. This is my story.
In February 2017, I was diagnosed with stage IV non-small cell lung cancer at just 49 years old. Prior to my diagnosis, I was living with a persistent cough for about a year and a half. While I thought these symptoms were a combo of gerd and asthma, I was becoming increasingly concerned by this and thought perhaps I was developing pneumonia. I consulted with my family doctor for a chest X-ray, which resulted in the diagnosis of my lung cancer. My chest X-ray and subsequent CT-scan revealed a tumor 5 cm by 7 cm in the left upper lobe and spots in the lining of the lung. This meant my cancer had metastasized, and I was considered stage IV.
Thankfully, I was referred to an incredible oncology team at the Ottawa Cancer Centre, including a thoracic surgeon who completed tissue biopsies and inserted “Pleurix” tube to remove three liters of fluid from the lining of my lung. The biopsies revealed an EGFR bio-marker mutation, Exon 19 Deletion, which meant my lung cancer journey would be slightly different from most others.
My cancer journey would start with targeted therapy medications for the bio-marker. I started on Afatinib. This targeted therapy was difficult, with numerous side effects and multiple medication reductions until it was finally tolerable for me. This was an extremely difficult time for myself and for my family and friends. At the 11 month marker, my CT-scan began to show progression; the lining of the lung was thickening again. My oncologist recommended a liquid biopsy to screen for the next possible mutation. In January 2018, these results confirmed that T790M mutation was positive. My treatment plan was changed to Tagrisso: a third line targeted therapy. I continue with this currently. I recently completed 11 stereotactic radiation treatments as an adjunct therapy for two nodes that are 6 mm and 8 mm that showed up on a CT scan in July 2019.
Being diagnosed with lung cancer was extremely shocking for myself, my family and my friends. I was a never smoker, and I quickly learned that the only requirement for lung cancer was to have LUNGS. My life was forever changed.
The early days of my diagnosis were dark; I felt lost, scared, depressed and anxious. All the things I envisioned for my life had completely changed. The prognosis seemed grim and the side effect profile of my first targeted therapy made me extremely ill – daily IVs for six weeks and six ER stays.
As I stabilized I began to feel HOPE. I began to find the silver lining of my life, my new life as a survivor living with lung cancer.
I always say “from darkness came light.”
I am so grateful for the amazing lung cancer survivor and caregiver groups across North America, including our Ottawa circle support group, for the connection, the love and the support in knowing that I was not alone in this journey.
These connections opened up my world to lung Cancer advocacy, targeted therapies, current cancer research and new and emerging treatments. I was fortunate to be able to attend IASLC 2018 World Conference on Lung Cancer in Toronto, LUNGevity HOPE Summit in Washington in April 2019 and most recently the IASLC 2019 World Conference on Lung Cancer in Barcelona, Spain, as a patient research advocate in the STARS Program (Supportive Training for Advocates in Research and Science).
I truly feel that being positive and optimistic about the future has a great impact on on my overall survival and quality of life.
This journey for me is about RESILIENCE.
Through all these connections, I have gained incredible knowledge about my own lung cancer diagnosis, which has allowed me to be my own advocate.
It is my wish that my story can inspire others to find their OWN SILVER LININGS. I am determined to give lung cancer a voice, to increase awareness and advocate for the future. More funding, more research, more survivors.