Why Me? Why Not?
2019 started off rough for me. I was actively monitoring and assisting 3 of my elderly family members with no help from my siblings. There was my 90 year old step-mom, my 91 year old dad and my 92 year old aunt that I was carefully monitoring and assisting by this time.
My step-mom was in her 6th year of being diagnosed with Alzheimers and in late 2018 I finally had to make the decision for my then 91 year old dad to finally put her in a nursing home after he continued to show he was unable to keep her safe at night after the home aides were gone. When she fell getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and broke her arm AND her her pelvis which the ER doctor missed because dad didn't hear her getting up, it was time to put her in a safe place. And take that burden off my dad. He was not happy but it was in their best interest.
On the rapid decline
She was rapidly declining at home, and as expected, continued to do so once safe at a nursing home 10 minutes from my dad's apartment. So it was no surprise that we lost her early in the morning of Feb 22, 2019. She went peacefully in her sleep.Dad was a trooper throughout her funeral and promised me he would stick around at least a couple more years despite losing the love of his life. I knew he would because he came from a strong bloodline where death late into their 90's was prevalent, with his mom living to be 104 and to date two of his siblings had made it to age 99 and 96 respectively before they passed.
The year my dad turned 92
My dad was turning 92 Mar 11, 2019 and we celebrated the day before because of people's work schedules. When I left his apartment that day after we celebrated with some cake and ice cream, I had no way of knowing that my dad's life was about to drastically change. That night, having gone to the kitchen to get his favorite night time snack, radishes and cheese (don't ask, you had to know him to truly understand) while using my step-mom's walker that had a seat to conveniently set his treats on, the greater trochanter on his right femur simply snapped off. He went down from the pain when it happened.
Things taking a turn with my dad
The exact same thing happened to his mom and his oldest sister in their early 90's. So he went down in the kitchen but had his guardian alert on and was able to set the alarm off. The company called me to tell me my dad had set off his alarm but he was not responding to their voices.
All they heard was a dog barking and him hollering something. I had them dispatch an ambulance then called his neighbor. She could see dad on the kitchen floor facing away from the window and he was yelling and the dog was right next to him barking. I told her that we were headed to the hospital ER closest to his apartment, that an ambulance was on it's way and to let my dad know once the fire department gained access into his apartment that we would meet him there.
The passing of my father
He ended up going to surgery on his birthday the next day. 45 minute procedure. In and out. All went according to plan. And dad did great. But sadly he silently slipped into acute heart failure which caused him to have a massive heart attack and suddenly we went from going to rehabilitation to being sent to hospice care instead. My dad died early morning on St. Patrick's Day and we buried him exactly 30 days after my step-mom passed.
My COPD diagnosis
In May I had a regular appointment with my pulmonary specialist, having been diagnosed with COPD in April 2018. He made sure I was scheduled for an annual lung cancer screening CT scan a few days later. A day after my scan, the phone rang and caller ID said it was him. I knew something had to be wrong to be getting a call less than 24 hours after that scan.
Hearing the words: "You Have Lung Cancer"
With sincere sorrow in his voice, he first mentioned he knew 2019 so far had not been a good year for me with the deaths of my dad and step-mom, but he was so sorry to have to tell me I had lung cancer. That is one word one never wants to hear. Especially after watching my mom beat the very same cancer once only to die from it 8 years later.
I was not a candidate for a biopsy
Plus my Grandpa Weaver, his dad, had succumbed to lung cancer when I was just 12. But that was not the worst part of getting told you have lung cancer. What made it worse was, because of the severity of my COPD, I was not a candidate to have a biopsy to find out what type of lung cancer I had nor was I a candidate for the preferred treatment, surgical removal of the 2 right lobes that each had a cancerous nodule. My pulmonary specialist felt though that I may be a good candidate for SBRT as a possible treatment course and within days I was seeing a radiation oncologist.
A lack of support from my spouse
I must note that I was married and still am when I got the devastating news I had lung cancer. But my husband was oddly not concerned nor seem interested in providing me support as I started my cancer diagnosis journey. I went by myself to see my radiation oncologist because my husband didn't even ask if I would like him to go nor did he walk out and get into our car to take me on his own accord. My radiation oncologist agreed SBRT was perfect for me and we started the process to get the body mold made in preparation to start the first of 4 sessions to be done over 2 weeks starting the following week after my mold was completed.
Going alone to treatments
I also went alone for my treatments. He never offered to go and I decided I shouldn't have to ask. So I pulled my big girl panties up and officially started my journey with the big "C". Alone but determined I could do it. I had to do it. I had 5 beautiful grandchildren I needed to live for. I didn't have time to wait for others to jump on the band wagon with me.
So I went it alone. Still am. But I am okay with that. After completing all 4 of my sessions I began the second half of my journey. The frequent CT scans alternating with a PET scan I had every three months that first year. Then I graduated to every 4 months of just CT scans just as COVID hit. I was terrified to go anywhere and self-isolated for most of 2020 and 2021. I only went to my doctor appointments.
Terrified of COVID
When the vaccination became available I didn't hesitate. And I made sure I got the booster as well. December 2020 I had a scare when my 4 month CT showed something in a lymph gland by my sternum. Because it was a lymph node they were able to access it through an endoscopy to see if it was cancerous. And if so, perhaps finally have a confirmation on what type of lung cancer I had.
Thankfully it was negative and my pulmonary specialist felt it was probably a reaction to my Moderna Booster. I eventually graduated to a CT scan every 6 months and during that time moved out on my own into an apartment closer to my son in January 2022. He was the only family member that tried to understand why his mom would get scanxiety every time I had a scan coming up and insisted I needed to do whatever I needed to do to increase my odds of survival. With that move I was turned over to a new radiation oncologist closer to where I now live.
My sons interest and support in my lung cancer
He literally was the first to sit down and talk candidly about my lung cancer. I asked him because I was not able to be biopsied did he possibly have a good sense of which specific lung cancer I had, telling him what types my mom and grandfather had.
I was finally told after over 2 and a half years of not knowing that he was very confident my cancer was NSCLC. His reasoning. Because if it were any other, with the type of treatment I had, the SBRT, they would have started to see new nodules popping up in other places in my lungs within the first year.
He also confirmed what I had assumed. That I had been very fortunate in that with my pulmonary specialist being diligent in making sure all his COPD patients get an annual lung cancer screening CT scan, mine was caught remarkably in stage 1. The majority of lung cancer patients are well into stage 3 or 4 when they are finally diagnosed.
"Why me? Why Not?"
So that brings me to the title of my story. "Why me? Why Not?" Cancer is a horrible disease and I worked in the health care field all my adult life. I have the education and ability to educate. And I am an amazing advocate for many causes. Now I can advocate for others to get those lung cancer screening CT's, especially if they smoke or were a former smoker.
I was 3 years out from finally kicking the habit when I was diagnosed with lung cancer. And even though I didn't stop soon enough when it comes to my COPD, even that devastating diagnosis was a blessing because it landed me with a physician that was extremely proactive and because if him, the lung cancer screening CT scan he insisted I do from day one, I became one of the elite few diagnosed in the earliest stages of the most deadliest cancer one can face.
A drive to advocate
Who better to get lung cancer than a person with the drive to advocate for much earlier detection and perhaps, show folks you can get through this. Even alone. I am happy to say I am just over three years out from my diagnosis and have officially graduated to seeing my radiation oncologist after a CT scan on a yearly basis.
Remaining optimistic about my future
I remain optimistic that my future continue to be filled with nothing but positive experiences. So much so I bought a house and will be moving just after Thanksgiving into my very own home just a block and a half away from 4 of my 5 grandchildren. All my grandsons. It's time to make good memories with them so when my day finally comes and the Lord calls me home many years from now, they will always have a piece of me in their hearts.
I choose to smile!
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