In the spring of 2014, I started having trouble with my shoulder that included some muscle atrophy and nerve pain. My physical therapist, John Graham, PT, suggested something bigger was going on and worried I might have a tumor somewhere in my right upper chest. He suggested I get a chest X-ray and an ultrasound of my lymph nodes. I thought he was crazy. I felt great and was back to training hard for a figure bodybuilding competition.
I managed to get in to see my GYN nurse practitioner and passed along my PT’s suggestions. I am sure she thought I had lost my mind. I told her I just needed the order and I was happy to pay out of pocket for it. Despite her skepticism, she ordered my exams. I was very nervous, but my ultrasound went off without a hitch and then I was off to get the chest X-ray. When it was done, I asked if I could see it. The tech informed me he could not tell me anything, but he was happy to let me look at it. To my disbelief they had only taken a picture of my right clavicle – just a small portion of my right upper chest. I asked why he did not take a full chest X-ray. Turned out it was only ordered as a clavicular X-ray. I was so discouraged and now worried about how I might have to call my nurse practitioner back to ask for a FULL chest X-ray, and I knew she already thought I was half crazy. I was beginning to think so myself, but if my PT thought I could possibly have a tumor
somewhere in my chest – I wanted to see ALL of it.
I came back to work at Castle Rock Adventist Hospital the next day and headed down to radiology to get the report from my two exams. The ultrasound was normal. But the chest X-ray showed a tiny pulmonary nodule. I had no idea what this meant, but the radiologist, recommended I follow up with a CT of my chest. My story continues on in kind of the same fashion as above. I began to think most of the professionals I met over the next two weeks thought I might be crazy as well. Here they were looking at a healthy, very active, non-smoking female with no family history, who thinks she has a tumor in her chest because “her PT said so.”
About a week later I had a CT that suggested this “thing” in my chest might be a fungal infection. I thank God every day that I am in healthcare and KNEW this did not make sense. I picked up a copy of the disc of my chest CT and brought it back to our radiology department, hoping I could get a curbside consult. The radiologist on that day was willing to give an “unofficial” second opinion. He looked at my clavicular X-ray and his first comment was what a great job the first radiologist had done at picking up the pulmonary nodule. He said he bet most radiologists would miss it all together, because it was so small. I think it was 0.4 mm. TINY. Next, he looked at my CT. Based on his professional opinion he did not think “it” looked infectious and actually felt it looked cancerous. I went from needing my shoulder looked at to now having CANCER. How could this be?
I have since had the right upper lobe of my lung removed and was diagnosed with Stage 1a adenocarcinoma. My recovery has been scary at times, yet so rewarding. I spent six days in the hospital after the surgery with a chest tube. My doctors told me the best thing for me was to walk. The first morning after discharge from the hospital, I set out for a walk at my home. Our driveway is long and has an incline. I made it down the driveway, downhill, just fine. Walking back up the hill, I thought I would die. I literally could not breathe. I wondered how this was all possible, still in shock. Just one week prior I was running up this very driveway, doing sprints. Now, I was doubled over, wheezing and gasping for breath. Slowly, one step at a time, I made it. Each day I would take a few steps more. By two weeks post op I was walking 2 ½ miles per day.
Every day I was aware of each breath and learned to love the sound of my harsh, wheezy breathing. Each breath became my new motivation and strength. I continued to push, and with the help of my trainer, Dave Fujii at American Pro Gym, was able to compete in a figure bodybuilding competition 10 months later. My competition was a way for me to regain some control. I had lost a lot of muscle mass, over this past year, but was happy in with my results and the reward of getting on stage.
I am very happy to tell you that I am now a lung cancer survivor. I still struggle with breathing when I work out but continue to push myself in the gym anyway. I believe that my physical health and strength contribute to my well-being and helped me with my recovery. It’s my armor, allowing me to take on anything that comes my way. I continue to work hard in the gym rebuilding muscle and getting stronger. I am hoping to compete one more time.
Why? Because with each breath, I can!
I eventually did compete again, and my Aunt Christie came with me the day of competition. This was an extra special day for me since my aunt is a lung cancer survivor as well. We now share this crazy amazing bond called lung cancer.
I could not have made it through this past year alone. Many thanks to my family, friends, colleagues, and my church family at Save The Cowboy! The support and prayers were amazing!