A woman and her doctor review a lung scan that shows a dark spot

A Lung Cancer Story

December 13, 2008. I will never, ever forget that day. My lung cancer journey began with a car accident on that day and that accident ultimately saved my life. I was stopped at an intersection waiting to make a turn when I was hit by a large masonry supply truck. My car was totaled. I was seemingly uninjured, however, paramedics on the scene insisted I go to a hospital to be sure there were no internal injuries. Turns out I was fine, except for this little suspicious spot on my upper left lung. And so began my journey.

From a suspicious spot to lung cancer

The spot was only suspicious so I was scheduled for CT scans every three months initially, then six, then annually. When it was time for my fifth year scan, my pulmonologist told me that if the spot had remained stable we would extend to every two years.

In all of the five years of being scanned, it never occurred to me that it would actually turn into something. I read the reports and still felt this pesky little spot would never turn into full-blown lung cancer. After all, I had already had thyroid cancer years before. No one gets cancer twice. Well, I was wrong. That fifth year scan showed enough growth to cause concern and prompt action. I am so very fortunate in many ways. Because of the car accident, my lung cancer was detected and treated before it had the chance to become life-threatening.

When my asthma was just a side note...

In the meantime, over the course of the five years before my little spot became lung cancer, I was diagnosed with asthma. It was mild, attacks were rare and minor and it barely impacted my life. I had no need for daily medication and my rescue inhaler was buried in the bottom of a drawer.

Surgery and a ‘new normal’

The immediate course of action to treat my lung cancer was surgery. Based on the results of the zillions of tests and scans I had prior to surgery, the cancer appeared to be contained. All of those tests also included breathing assessments to be sure I would be able to tolerate losing a large chunk of my left lung, considering I also had asthma. I was healthy, active, fit and I had no other health issues. I was expected to sail through the surgery with no problems and my recovery, while painful, was expected to be easily managed. That was how things went for the first few days.

Developing severe asthma after surgery

However, a few days after being discharged from the hospital I began having serious, rush me to the hospital, asthma attacks. The expectation that my recovery would go smoothly and I would bounce back and return to my normal life quickly did not materialize. The remainder of my left lung did not expand properly make it unable to function effectively, my airway was damaged by the breathing tube used during surgery and my vocal cords were damaged.

All of these things together caused my asthma to morph into an unpleasant new fact of life for me. These complications were completely unexpected and there was no way to know or test to predict these possibilities. It just is what it is.

Despite the challenges, I am grateful

Today, my easily managed, barely there, asthma has become chronic, serious, and a daily consideration in everything I do. I had to retire from my job and can no longer live the same life I lived prior to lung cancer. I feel so fortunate that surgery was the only treatment for my cancer. Regardless of the challenges that surgery left in its wake, I am still grateful every day.

In the fall of 2020, it will be 7 years of no evidence of disease. I have a new tiny little spot that has not changed in 3 or 4 years, but I try not to think about it and stay focused on my doctor’s positive assessment. She believes it is not going to develop into something based on its appearance. I believe her...most of the time.

Always work to maintain forward motion

Living with the fear of cancer hanging over my head is just something I have incorporated into my ‘new normal’. My life has changed drastically since my diagnosis and the surgery to remove the cancer, but I have my life and that is something I consider a gift. My goal is to keep living my life, navigate the challenges, leave the negative aspects behind and always work to maintain forward motion. I will always be grateful to the man that caused that car accident.

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