Am I Lucky?
When I was first diagnosed with lung cancer nine years ago, people would always tell me how lucky I was. I was lucky that my cancer was caught early. I was lucky to be able to have surgery. I was lucky that I was armed with knowledge. And I was lucky that I already had relationships with lung cancer medical professionals. But, I wasn’t convinced that all of that was luck.
A family history
My mom would say that luck can be a chance happening, but most of the time it is when knowledge and preparation meet opportunity. “It’s not about the adversities you face in life; it’s about how you handle them moving forward” is what she always told me.
So, was I lucky that I was originally diagnosed at an early stage? The cancer was caught early because I was being screened. I was being screened because my mom, dad, aunt, and two grandparents died of lung cancer. Certainly, I was not lucky that they all died of lung cancer at a young age. I think that I looked at those losses as an opportunity to be proactive with my own health and create my own luck with the knowledge and preparation my mom had talked about.
The same applies to the knowledge I had and the relationships I had with the medical community when I was diagnosed. I learned a lot about lung cancer and developed those relationships through my advocacy work with LUNGevity (a non-profit founded by seven Chicago-area lung cancer survivors in 2000). I got involved with LUNGevity in 2001 because of my losses and my need to try and gain some control over the disease that wouldn’t leave my family alone! The only luck I had at that point was bad, so I decided I was going to fight back and use LUNGevity as my vehicle.
Facing an unpredictable future, again
I definitely did not feel lucky when my cancer came back 2 1/2 years after my diagnosis and I realized this would be a life-long roller coaster ride for me. My kids were still relatively young at 8, 10, 12 and 14. I was scared, and all the uncertainties in my unpredictable future were consuming. I did everything in my power to catch the cancer early and to try and prevent it from coming back. This was just a streak of bad luck, but how was I going to emerge from the cancer depression I fell into and move forward this time?
It took me a while, but while lung cancer had control over my body, I refused to let it control my emotions or dictate how I lived. I continued my advocacy work and with time, and through social media and advancements in treatments, lung cancer was finally getting the respect and attention it deserved.
Through my advocacy work, I have developed lifelong friendships and relationships with people that I can’t imagine not being in my life. I have had the opportunity to travel all over the world. I’ve been invited to participate in exciting ‘once in a lifetime’ events. I often hear how lucky I am to be able to have these experiences. These experiences are the silver linings of my lung cancer, but they aren’t happening by luck - I’ve paid a hefty price and worked hard for 35 years to have these opportunities!
I am lucky
I have experienced some real luck though. The cancer has slowed down. It’s contained to my chest and I’ve been pretty stable for a few years now. We’ve used SBRT to treat unruly cancers, but I have not had to go back on systemic treatment. There is no explanation as to why, and I am not going to question it. Simply put...I AM LUCKY! This could, of course, all change with the results of my next scan, but even if it does, I am still lucky that we have been able to manage the cancer for such a long period of time.
So, what is luck? Is it chance, like winning the lottery or is it part in the way we treat setbacks and how we choose to look at them? I can now say confidently that it can be chance and that luck does play a role in one's cancer journey. But, I believe a lot of my luck has come from the way I look at my life experiences and what I do to make sense of them.
My mom’s spirit and her lessons are always with me. Maybe she is my ultimate good luck charm because she taught me not to be a victim and that much of my own luck is something I can control and even create!
Where have you found the most support during your lung cancer journey?