Most people find out that they have lung cancer after visiting a doctor because they feel something isn’t “quite right.” Whether it be a tickling cough, shortness of breath or that mysterious pain that just won’t go away, there is usually something amiss.
Not me. I had no risk factors, no symptoms and no clue that my life could be upended by lung cancer. I discovered that I had lung cancer when I was nearly hit in a head-on collision on February 8, 2015, as I drove my then six-year-old son home from his ski lessons. Because of the severity of the accident, I agreed to a trauma scan at the emergency department. The doctors didn’t see anything related to the car accident but did see a 3.75 mass in my left lung. The eventual diagnosis: stage 3a non-small cell lung cancer, specifically adenocarcinoma with an ALK translocation.
I sought treatment at Dana Farber Cancer Institute, where I had concurrent chemotherapy and radiation, followed by a lobectomy. Unfortunately, the pathology results led the doctors to believe that I was at high risk of recurrence, so I underwent four more rounds of chemotherapy. For 15 months, I heard the words that every cancer survivor wants to hear: “No Evidence of Disease.”
It was not to be. In October 2016, I discovered that the cancer had returned and metastasized. I now am dependent on targeted therapy and stereotactic radiation to keep the cancer at bay, and I hope that medical advancements will outpace my cancer.
While learning about lung cancer, I was stunned to find out how relatively little funding it receives – a result, no doubt, of the stigma, dismal survival rates and the corresponding paucity of people living with lung cancer willing to advocate. I pledged to change that. Through my advocacy activities, I have focused on ensuring that the patient voice has a seat at every table where lung cancer is being discussed. After all, it is OUR fate that hangs in the balance. We deserve more, and only if we demand more will lung cancer patients get what they deserve.
Lung cancer has taken so much from my life. But it also has given me a gift. The gift of appreciating life and all the wonderful things in it. Since being diagnosed, I’ve focused on making memories with my husband and children, now aged six and nine. I appreciate every class presentation, every soccer game and every milestone. Our family has traveled to Hawaii, Florida, Alaska and beyond. In Alaska, I hiked six miles to climb up a glacier.
Take that, lung cancer! Next activity … skydiving!