montessa-lee_with-sonMontessa Lee’s story (copied below) was shared on the website “A Woman’s Health.”

Montessa Lee was 28 years old when she was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer in December 2006 after two misdiagnoses. At the time, the special education teacher from Silver Spring, Maryland, was healthy and active, having never encountered a health challenge more serious than seasonal allergies.

Now she found herself facing cancer treatment at a time when most of her peers were focused on careers, relationships, and family. For Montessa, whose family lived in North Carolina, the experience illuminated what was of real value in her life and showed her what she could truly count on.

Turning to her faith and to loved ones, she found strength to cope. “I turned to the only thing that could bring me through that storm: my relationship with God,” Montessa says. “I joined a cancer support ministry at my church, which I am still a part of today.” In addition, she found support in family, who traveled back and forth from North Carolina to offer support, and in friends who truly came through for her.montessa-lee_at-graduation

Learning whom she could really count on and what she was capable of, Montessa says, has been transformative. “I have learned how to truly value life and friendships. I found out what makes a true friend—one who will be with you through thick and thin—and I have learned that I was stronger than I ever thought I was.”

In addition to calling on that strength to aid in her own recovery, Montessa now channels her resources to make a difference for others affected by lung cancer. “When I look at the survival rates of this disease, I believe that I am still here for a reason. I am assured that my life has a purpose on this earth: I am alive today to give this disease a voice and tell my story.” To that end Montessa works with the National Lung Cancer Partnership to raise funds and awareness of the disease.

Having recently celebrated five years of survivorship, Montessa says that she hopes newly diagnosed patients will learn to reach out for support when they need it and learn the value of becoming their own best advocate. “Don’t have too much pride to ask for help,” she says. “Seek support from local cancer centers, websites, and support or church groups. Seek out advice about who are the best doctors that specialize in your particular cancer. Last but not least, be your own patient advocate: know the side effects of medications, know your treatment cycles, know the names of your chemotherapy drugs, know the latest findings for your cancer, inquire about clinical trials, and always ask questions.”

Montessa also works with the Department of Defense Lung Cancer Research Program Peer Review Panel, and appeared at the Lung Cancer Awareness Month Kickoff Press Conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.