My Lung Cancer Story
It was 2014, I was 46 and I was in the best shape of my life. Then I started wheezing in June of 2014. Not long after, I ran into my doctor. She commented on how fabulous I looked, and I told her about the wheezing. That started my long road to a lung cancer diagnosis.
Ruling out asthma, allergies, and pneumonia
I went to see her in September 2014 when the wheezing got worse and I developed a cough that wouldn’t go away. We ruled out asthma, allergies, and pneumonia and I was given asthma medication. The cough was getting so bad that I couldn’t finish a sentence without coughing.
Friends referred me to a pulmonary specialist. I went to go see a pulmonary specialist in November of 2014. When I got there, I tried to do breathing tests with the nurse, and I just couldn’t. The specialist reviewed my X-rays from a couple of months before and thought one lobe of a lung seemed enlarged, or “different.” He prescribed medication and said to call on Monday if I didn’t feel better.
My symptoms worsened
Monday came, and I felt so awful I went to the emergency room. Along with my cough, I had extreme tightness in my chest and shortness of breath. We thought we had it figured out when an ER doctor thought I may have a rare fungus in my lungs from pet sitting for a tropical bird. The X-rays didn’t show that then they ordered a CT scan, and it did show fluid in my lung.
Learning about my stage 3 lung cancer
I was admitted to the hospital, and my pulmonary specialist came in the evening to see me. He showed me my scan it showed that my lung was closed (almost flat), so he ordered a bronchoscopy to remove the fluid and get it tested. I was tired of not knowing what was wrong but, at this point, I panicked. Having cancer was one of my biggest fears. The doctor gave me something to calm down.
Two days later the specialist came into my hospital room with the bronchoscopy results, my husband and I saw the big smile on his face and expected good news. Then the nurse shut the door and he said I had stage IIIB lung cancer. We were in shock. “But I don’t even smoke!” I told him. He explained it was adenocarcinoma, the type that is common among non-smokers.
After more tests, I had chemotherapy and radiation therapy at a well-known cancer center two hours away. My husband researched and asked questions. I feel like he knew everything about lung cancer which was why he was so angry it took six weeks to get the molecular testing results. On the last day of my treatment, we learned the cancer was ALK+. Had we gotten the results earlier, I might have avoided chemotherapy. We decided to get a second opinion.
Seeking a second opinion
The “second opinion doctor” suggested an oral targeted therapy that would treat the ALK mutation, and he referred me to a doctor very near my home. I left there very upset because his nurse practitioner told me that my type of cancer was aggressive, and I wouldn’t make it five years. I disagreed, telling her I had great faith, but she dismissed me, saying I had maybe 18 months.
My new doctor, however, immediately took my hand and said, “You have a very good chance of beating this, and I’m going to help you.” Every day I spoke positive words to the atmosphere. “I am healthy. I am healed. I am going to make it.” I visualized the targeted therapy shooting and destroying the cancer, just like in a video game. I continued lifting and working out to stay healthy and even became a certified trainer.
Reminding myself how far I've come
Follow-up tests showed the treatment was working, and my doctor allowed me to take a life-changing trip to Israel with my mother-in-law. A month after I returned in December 2015, test results declared I was NED, no evidence of disease.
In November 2019, despite that nurse practitioner’s prediction, I made it to five years. That same month, tests showed two very small spots on my brain. My diagnosis was upgraded to stage IV. The disease was stable, and I now have progression. Targeted therapy has been changed and I’m back in the fighting mode. I’ll continue going for follow-ups every three months.
I live in the moment and enjoy the now. My husband and I travel a lot and continue to enjoy our date nights. When I have a bad day, I remind myself how far I’ve come.
Have you taken our In America Survey yet?