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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, 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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • peaceburro
    9 months ago

    Dear Ivy,

    My previous gig as a grant writer and Director of Development at an Art Center was too stressful (and too difficult to manage the grant calendar) during my year of immunotherapy treatments, associated fatigue, and other side effects from initial treatment. As a Stage IIIB NSCLC patient, I am interested in learning more from you about how you managed to negotiate your path into a career in advocacy. Since my diagnosis in 2017 I have been working to reduce the stigma of lung cancer by acting as a spokesperson for local and regional fundraisers, and as the subject of several videos and fundraisers for our health care provider. Would you feel free to email chat with me about your experiences? Thanks, Eric

  • Ivy Elkins author
    8 months ago

    Hi Eric — Thanks so much for your message. I would be happy to connect with you but we are not allowed to share email addresses on this site. I am on both Facebook and Twitter.

  • hedgiemom
    10 months ago

    It sounds like maybe God had a plan for you. Not saying he allowed the cancer, but that He knew how good you would be to advocate for others.
    I don’t know- I’ve had cancer two other times, and now I ask Him “again! Why, haven’t I been through enough?” Because of past radiation to my chest, in the 70’s, I have radiation damage to my heart valves. Maybe also from Chemo in the 80’s!

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    10 months ago

    Sorry to hear of the stress of the multiple treatments over time. Wishing you positive vibes. Best!

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