A woman looks at a daunting mountain range

108 Months and Still Overcoming

In October of 2010, I received my stage 4 lung adenocarcinoma diagnosis. My prognosis then was 10-15 months which I began living in three-month increments. That's the time between each thoracic CT that would let my doctor know that my treatment was working or that my cancer was active again. Three years prior to my diagnosis my mom died from the same type of lung cancer that I now have. Her life expectancy was 6 months, she lasted 4½ so I tried not to be overly optimistic that I would see even one year. I will admit to being glad that my prognosis was more than two times that of hers.

Living in month to month increments

For the next three years, life revolved around those three month CTs. Every purchase, every trip, every party, even the size of bottles of over the counter medications was based on a ninety-day lifestyle. Why spend money on something you’re not going to be around to use?

When I was diagnosed, the 5 year survival rate was 1 percent. It has since doubled and then more than doubled again. In 2010, if you could make it to 2 years the chances that you would survive to five went up exponentially. Only at the 23 month mark did I begin to allow myself hope that I could indeed make it to 24 months then 60. Still, I was living month to month, CT to CT, afraid to buy anything. At the 3 year mark, I went to a six month CT schedule and I began to plan my life in six month increments. At five years I went to a 12 month CT schedule but in my head, I was focused on living month to month.

My thinking has since changed

Do I know when my thinking started to change? Not really. One day looking at the label of my allergy OTC allergy medications and realized I had bought a year's supply. Around that same time, my BFF invited me to visit her family in Luxembourg over the holiday season. This meant I would need to save up for a round trip, it would take many months but I never thought about that CT schedule or that it might interfere.

Spending money? When first diagnosed I didn’t spend money on anything but absolute necessities. It was now a finite resource and I expected treatment and insurance would take every cent. One day my sister, my cousin and I were shopping for supplies at our local grocery superstore when someone suggested I buy a big screen TV. I resisted at first but viewing on a screen I could see across the room without wearing glasses finally convinced me. After all, I could leave the TV to my nephew in a few months when I die. The dam was broken. If I saw something I wanted and could designate who it would go to, I bought it. Eventually, I made no pretense of buying it to pass along and bought it for the satisfaction of being able to use it.

Fully embracing survivorship

There came a day that I started scheduling my CTs around my work, volunteer, and travel schedules. I knew then that I had fully embraced survivorship. This morning as I write I am sitting on a balcony 2300 miles from home. The Sierra Nevadas are a deep blue and purple. The leaves on the trees that overhang the balcony are beginning to turn gold. The sun shines, the day and the road beckon. I’m excited for what the day may bring and making plans for tomorrow.

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