A pair of lungs one with asthma one with lung cancer

A Complicated Relationship

Lung cancer and asthma are a complicated duo. Asthma can be mild for some, as it was for me for the first few years after being diagnosed. Then lung cancer joined the scene and everything went haywire. I’d like to say that having excellent guidance and medical care has been a godsend. Having both these diagnoses along with vocal cord dysfunction and damaged airways has been all at once a bit of a roller coaster ride, a scavenger hunt of sorts, a puzzle, and sometimes a three-ring, or in my case, a four-ring circus.

Building my circus

Asthma - Diagnosed as an adult; relatively mild until the next player joined the team.

Lung Cancer - Treated by removing the upper lobe of my left lung. I did not recover as was expected. Enter stage left...

Collapsed Airway and Small Airway Damage - the remaining portion of the left lung no longer functions normally. My trachea is collapsed because of the size of the breathing tube used for thoracic surgery; the surgery I had to treat lung cancer. This damage was very unexpected.

Vocal Cord Dysfunction - Possibly caused years earlier by surgery for thyroid cancer. Lung cancer surgery along with multiple, serious asthma exacerbations following the lung cancer surgery likely made the condition a  serious player in my quartet of chronic conditions.

And now to the circus

In the early days dealing with the four main culprits as a unit took some getting used to. An entirely new medication regimen seemed daunting. I had only taken one medication a day for most of my adult life for thyroid replacement. Suddenly I was dealing with multiple daily medicines and therapies. And it took time to determine the magic combination for me. It was a trial and error process. Even when medications provided a little more stability, I was then faced with the task of figuring out which particular aspect of my chronic issues was causing any flare-ups I was having.

One evening, months later, during family game night, I took a sip of water. It went down the wrong way and I coughed. Then I couldn’t stop coughing and then the coughing stopped, but so did everything else. I couldn’t make a sound, no breathing at all. I didn’t think a rescue inhaler was going to help, my airway was closed. What I didn’t know was that my vocal cords had started to spasm and then closed, therefore, no breathing. It was terrifying and confusing. Sessions of speech therapy helped me learn more about VCD and how to deal with those episodes.

I learned that along with quick action, remaining calm is paramount, no matter which issue is the current bad actor. Maintaining calm when you can’t breathe is challenging. When you aren’t sure why you can’t breathe adds an extra layer of challenge. When I feel like I am on the verge of an episode of some sort, I assess how I’m feeling and what seems to be triggering what I’m feeling. Sometimes it’s easy to figure out...most times not. Often times it doesn’t matter which culprit is the first to center stage because it almost always devolves into a domino effect once the circus has begun.

Managing the show is challenging

The artful and diligent direction of my little circus performers is imperative. I am used to all the medications now, and I am used to the daily routine of making sure every player stays on task. I am also used to the realization that no matter how managed I think these chronic conditions are, they can become unmanageable at the drop of a hat.

This is where being proactive comes in and where one must learn to listen very closely to their body. When I am having, as I mentioned, a domino effect, it is exhausting, physically and mentally. I am in the throws of that now. I have been coughing for months, have had more shortness of breath than usual, and am battling a host of other effects the circus has brought to town. Steroid bursts, longer-term steroids, and a host of other treatments have been given the chance to make things (me) better. So far nothing has worked and everything is irritated and I have developed infections. It’s quite the four-ring circus now. My doctor has prescribed a new course of treatment for me for the next four months. The hope is that it will bring everything under control and get me back to my baseline. I trust it will all resolve, getting there is problematic.

Living with multiple conditions

I refer to living with multiple chronic issues as managing the show though sometimes it feels as though the show is managing me. These last several months have been worrisome, tiring, and frustrating. While I have had many good days over this period, the bad days create setbacks, big ones, that take time to recover from and even still I am not back to my baseline.

I am fortunate to have excellent doctors that I have great faith in. I have a very supportive family and wonderful friends that encourage me to move forward. They make me laugh and keep me focused on the great gifts I have in this life. I don't like the circus, it is not my friend, but it knows I intend to whip it back into shape...in this I am resolute.

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