On November 27th, 2012, I lay in the bed of a hospital in downtown Atlanta. Having just had a craniotomy, I was recovering and drowsy, surrounded by family and friends with tears in their eyes when I woke up. Feeling better, I called my employer and walked someone through how to do the payroll. Of course, the nurses and my family, genuinely concerned, felt I should be resting more. But, that person is not me. I have always tackled everything head on and was now running a hotel and restaurant, one of the top 25 according to Tripadvisor in the country at the time.
Thinking I'd return to normal life...
My life was perfect. Brain tumors run in my family and have always been benign. Tumors generally run in my family and are benign. So, after the surgery, I expected to make a full recovery and return to my normal life. The neck tumor from 2011 was benign (or so I was told). I had no idea what was to happen in just a few brief minutes.
"Not curable, only treatable"
As I continued to take in the scene unfolding before me, I could see my family and friends with more tears in their eyes. Unable to comprehend why they were so sad, I blurted out, "I feel better guys!" The expressions didn't change and one friend said, "I think you need to talk to the doctor".
I requested the nurse send in the doctor if he was available to speak with me. He was and came in shortly after.
As he came in, I noticed the solemn look on his face. I could tell there was something he didn't want to tell me. I just celebrated my 33rd birthday less than a month before and I was a single mom raising a 7 year old spitfire daughter and on top of the hospitality industry. My life was so full of hope and promise.
The doctor shattered my dreams of financial success and future family by telling me, "We removed the brain tumor. It was malignant and we believe it came from your lung. This means you most likely have lung cancer and since it spread to another organ, it is most likely stage 4". Everyone turned in my direction to watch my reaction to the news. Stunned and nearly speechless, I began asking if they could just cut it out of my lungs. The answer to my questions was the same each time, "You are not curable, only treatable".
Searching for hope
My world collapsed when I was told the best guesstimate for my survival was 12-18 months. I immediately grabbed my cell phone and began to google. The statistics were dire, with only a 4% chance of 5 year survival. I desperately began looking for long term survival stories. I needed hope and found one.
Linnea Olsen became the first lung cancer patient I read about still alive, surpassing 5 years. Less than 1% of all lung cancer patients were under the age of 35 at the time. So, I put on a brave smile and said, "If I can be in that 1% to get this, I can be in the 4% to make it 5 years". Did I believe this with all of my very being? No, but I had to give my loved ones hope. It became my job. At that moment, I felt hopeless but knew I had to fight for my family, friends, and mostly my daughter.
I didn't want to go with the first suggestion for treatment. Seeking out two other opinions that differed from my original plan was a blessing. Letting the cancer grow inside me for two months, I traveled to MD Anderson and Baptists Hospitals just to get their opinions. Two of the three had the same treatment plan. I quit my job, put myself in warrior mode, and prepared for battle. It is the laziest battle I've ever fought due to the fatigue.
Beginning of my new life
This became the beginning of my new life, my better life. Because without this diagnosis, I would still be working my life away. Now, I stop to enjoy the sunset, take my daughter to new and exciting adventures, and advocate for others like me as much as possible. It has become my purpose. I don't regret it for a minute. I may not be rich financially, but my heart overflows with love.
And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:13)
Where have you found the most support during your lung cancer journey?