11 Years After Diagnosis and Still Thriving

Over 11 Years Since Diagnosis and Still Thriving

On a beautiful Tuesday morning in September 2005, a compassionate physician sat in front of me, his warm, brown eyes just inches from mine. He spoke the words frankly, yet, gently and kindly.

“You have lung cancer.”

I didn’t realize it then, but that day forever changed my life.

I had just turned 51 years old. I was working at the MBA school of Wake Forest University managing media relations. I also was enrolled in WFU’s intense fast-track MBA program.

When I share my story, I am often asked about my smoking history. So let’s get this out of the way: I am a former smoker. I quit smoking at the age of 25, which was 26 years before my diagnosis.

Curiously, I was considered high risk for colon cancer because my brother died at the age of 31 of colon cancer. So since I was in my 20s, I had been getting a colonoscopy every five years.

Lung cancer, however, was not on my radar. I think my doctor was as surprised by my diagnosis as I was.

Unlike most lung cancer patients, my cancer was caught early. I was lucky enough to undergo surgery. I had two-thirds of my right lung removed, followed by several rounds of chemotherapy. I had a couple of false alarms the first few years; however, I have been out of treatment since March 2006 and have no evidence of disease (NED).

Before my cancer diagnosis, I think I subconsciously gave all cancers equal weight. I was shocked, however, to learn the differences among cancers. No cancer is good, but lung cancer has such a compelling need. Those of us who have been diagnosed with lung cancer understand the facts only too well.

Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer. It takes more lives than colon, breast, prostate and pancreatic cancers combined. As if that fact was not sufficiently discouraging, lung cancer is the least funded of all the major cancers.

As a former journalist, I knew these facts were not common knowledge. I sensed a calling to get involved to raise awareness about this disease. In fact, as I was still recovering from my surgery, I wrote a letter to the editor of my local newspaper about Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Since then, I have written many articles and been interviewed by various media outlets about lung cancer.
The first few years after my diagnosis, I volunteered with various nonprofit organizations serving the lung cancer community. In the course of time, I found my calling. In 2010, with the support and help from my family, I started my own nonprofit. The mission of the Dusty Joy Foundation (LiveLung) is advancing lung cancer awareness, early detection and compassion for people impacted by lung cancer. As co-leader of the Lung Cancer Action Network, I also work with dozens of nonprofit organizations, large and small.

My work is more meaningful and fulfilling than anything I did in my previous careers in journalism and public relations. However, I am grateful for those experiences because my expertise in those disciplines has become invaluable. Advocating for the lung cancer community is my passion and my joy!

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