What Does November Mean to You?
What does this month mean to you? When I was first diagnosed with grim news that I had stage 4 lung cancer, I was a total wreck. That wreckage remained and grew stronger when told I had 12-18 months to live. That was 6 years ago. Since then, I have risen from that wreckage and begun to tell my story to anyone who would listen. I have several reasons I WANT people to know I have stage 4 lung cancer.
Thinking about November
Originally, I thought of November and thought "Thanksgiving and shopping". I didn't even know there was a lung cancer awareness month. That month, back in 2012, I visited my family in Atlanta for the holiday. I've always been one of those people that stayed up all night and began shopping at midnight just to get the great deals. The same went for this Black Friday. I was going to get all of my shopping done.
My story before diagnosis...
At the time, I was in pure denial. My hometown doctors continued to diagnose me with migraines. My vision became distorted at intervals, to the point where I totally lost depth perception. I don't know how I drove that shopping day or why I would endanger myself and so many others. Before even leaving my hometown I lost my vision. After being told I was having migraines during multiple visits to the ER and urgent care center, I began vomiting a white substance and from that point was put on hydro-codeine every 3 hours or as needed. As it turned out, I needed it every three hours. So, while shopping, and taking pain medication, I couldn't think clearly. I ended up meeting some friends at a local bar empty handed from my shopping escapade.
Continuing the pills, I had a drink. Out of the blue, someone mentioned my popping pills and drinking, which led to an argument about being a bad mother. My daughter was with her grandmother that night. An overwhelming emotion enveloped me. Tears began streaming down my face and I immediately had some friends take me to a local hotel because I didn't want to go back to my mother's house. Two friends stayed with me that night and I cried uncontrollably for hours. I had never been so inconsolable.
My friends that stayed with me that night were extremely concerned about my well being. I couldn't drive the next day so one of them had to essentially drive me to my father's house. I couldn't have my daughter see me in such a state. As I lay on his couch while he took my friend to his car, I began to cry again. I knew it was time to go to the hospital and get answers once and for all. My dad went to my mom's and got my daughter and my mom took me to the local hospital near them. She demanded a brain MRI. She knew this was unlike me, I wasn't a drug user.
What the MRI revealed
The MRI I received gave me an explanation for the headaches. Just 3 days after Thanksgiving, I was being told I had a brain tumor and they were to transport me to downtown Atlanta where they are better equipped to handle my case. I learned I had stage 4 lung cancer in merely 5 days. My world changed forever when told there was no cure.
I was tested for genetic mutations and EGFR mutation came back positive. I've had radiations, progression, and regression to the point my cancer isn't active. I do have two tumors and the targeted therapy I'm on won't last forever, so I always have that worry.
Telling my story to end the stigma
So, why am I telling my story? Because too many lung cancer patients have felt the sting of the stigma associated with the disease. "How long did you smoke?" Less than a month after my 33rd birthday my diagnosis was discovered. My mother didn't take "no" for an answer. She was my advocate that day. Radon, air pollution, second hand smoke, and asbestos are all causes of lung cancer. My lung cancer didn't come from smoking. Neither did the 9 year old little girl who passed from lung cancer, or the 17 year old, or the dozens of people in there 20's and 30's, just making a life for themselves.
Far too many of us are snuffed out before we can tell our stories. There is no cure, but there are treatments to extend our life. Furthermore, so many people who get lung cancer have never smoked or quit years ago. Yet, the smoking stigma continues. I ask that you tell your story, my story, our stories, to anyone who will listen. We are lacking so much in funding, yet lung cancer is by far the greatest killer when it comes to cancer. It claims around 433 lives a day. That is equivalent to a jumbo jet crashing and killing all on board EVERY DAY. So, this lung cancer awareness month, November, help us. Make noise and don't allow us to die before making a difference. We are turning this battle and we will win this war. We just can't give up. God bless.
Do you find that staying zen through your lung cancer diagnosis has helped you in your journey?