On July 19, 2016, I went to urgent care because of unresolved chest pain I had been experiencing for about a week. One night it hurt to breathe, the next day was better and the next day better still; yet it didn’t totally resolve and my intuition told me to follow up with them. Blood tests were done followed by a chest X-ray. I then had a CT scan which confirmed a 2.5 cm nodule in my upper right lung. The ER doc was blunt, “It’s looks to me like a tumor. You need to follow though and see a pulmonologist.”

The pulmonologist suggested we try a round of antibiotics in case the nodule was an infection. After ten days on antibiotics with no reduction in the size of the nodule, I had a PET/CT as well as a needle biopsy and was subsequently diagnosed with stage IV non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) adenocarcinoma with metastasis to the R pleura and mediastinal lymph nodes.

It is still hard to find the words to express the level of shock my family and I experienced. I had been a full-time, practicing massage therapist and Reiki practitioner in private practice for 26 years. Because I was a never-smoker, we were not looking for lung cancer. I know now that every year approximately 20% of those diagnosed with lung cancer are never-smokers. After consulting with my oncologist, as well as getting a second opinion, I chose to have a core tumor biopsy for genomic sequencing testing to determine mutations. My treatments so far have been standard of care chemotherapy followed by another chemo in addition to an anti-angiogenesis. Most recently, I received SBRT to one spot which showed activation near the original tumor. Currently, I do not have an actionable mutation, and yet I know that research is continually looking for and finding new and effective treatments. I believe that new treatments will be found not only for me but for others whose genomic tumor makeup is rare.

I believe that every cancer patient should form their own cancer care team. I have an AWESOME cancer care team, which includes my medical oncologist, second opinion oncologist, radiation oncologist, nurses, oncology social workers, acupuncturist, massage therapist, support group members, friends and especially supportive family. Cancer does not just affect the person who has it but everyone in their sphere.

In 2016, when I was diagnosed, the statistics for stage IV lung cancer stated that I had a 10% chance of being alive in two years, but I am not a statistic. Every person is unique; every cancer is unique. I plan on not only surviving but thriving for many years to come because I want to continue experiencing the blessing that is life! I believe that we all need a passion, and I have found a new passion advocating for cancer patients. I was recently asked to sit on the Patient Community Council at Foundation Medicine, and I continue exploring opportunities to share what I have already learned and what I am continually learning.

Receiving this diagnosis was a tremendous shock but has also been a tremendous opportunity to go deeper than I have ever gone before. I am fascinated with medical science as it interfaces with complementary treatment and spiritual beliefs. In essence, looking at and treating patients ‘WHOLE-istically,’ as there are many aspects that determine how each and every one of us approaches a cancer diagnosis. This opportunity is teaching me that it’s not about “how” or “what” we might die from, it’s about how we choose to live, no matter what our challenges might be.

My motto: Fear-Less and Live-Life!