Woman speaking behind a podium with an image of lungs on the front

How My Lung Cancer Led to a New “Career”

Unfortunately, all too often a diagnosis of lung cancer results in the end of a career, not the beginning. Due to the demands of treatment and feeling unwell, many patients are forced to leave the work force, frequently when in the prime of their careers. Others choose early retirement in order to spend more time with family and make precious memories.

My career path

My path has been a little different, however. Instead of leaving the work force, I ended up with a new “career” in lung cancer advocacy even though I thought my life was over and I would never be able to try anything new when I was first diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. This path has only been possible because I’ve been very fortunate to have minimal side effects and stable treatment for long periods of time.

Life before lung cancer

When I was first diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, I was a stay-at-home mom. I had worked in finance and marketing prior to having my two sons and had decided to take a break from working while they were young. Although I was a “stay-at-home” mom, I never really stayed at home. I led a very busy life acting as the CEO of our household and volunteering at their schools. My husband often joked that I was the busiest person around who wasn’t earning an actual paycheck!

When my boys were 10 and 13, I started thinking about going back to work part-time. However, at the same time I also began dealing with problems with my neck and elbow that just wouldn’t go away, and visiting doctors to figure out the cause eventually led to my lung cancer diagnosis. I forgot about any career plans as I dealt with treatment plans instead and grieved the change in my life caused by my unexpected diagnosis.

Finding new opportunities

After awhile, though, my treatment plan stabilized and I ventured slowly into the lung cancer advocacy world. I was offered a couple of opportunities to share my story and create awareness of lung cancer through speaking engagements and writing opportunities. As an undergraduate English major who never really did anything with my communications background, I found that I really enjoyed these opportunities. In fact, I actually liked them much more than I ever enjoyed my previous jobs in corporate America.

Since I live in the Chicago suburbs, I learned that ASCO (the American Society of Clinical Oncology) holds its annual conferences in downtown Chicago every year and I decided to attend to learn more about lung cancer and potential future treatment options. This led to me developing an interest in the science of lung cancer, which came as a complete surprise not only to me, but to my friends and family, since I was definitely not a science person when I was in school!

I found more opportunities to attend conferences and then put my newly-found cancer science interest to work by finding ways through which my patient perspective of research could be valuable, such as a reviewer for the Department of Defense congressionally-directed lung cancer research program.

Embracing this new life

I now spend most days either advocating for research as part of the EGFR Resisters, writing articles such as this for lungcancer.net, or preparing for presentations or conference/meeting attendance. My children are older and I have more free time during the day and the ability to travel when necessary.

If I could go back in time, I would definitely prefer to have never been diagnosed with lung cancer, but given the situation, I am trying to do something I enjoy and help others along the way. It helps me to stay busy so that I don’t focus too much on my unknown future. I hope others in the lung cancer community have also found new ways to enjoy life since diagnosis despite challenges.

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