In the spring of 2010, thought I was just having a case of spring allergies, but when my cough and wheezing only got worse, I went to the doctor. You can imagine my surprise when I was diagnosed with stage 1B adenocarcinoma. It was then I began to learn about the risks of radon, which is prevalent in my home state of Iowa. Molecular testing had revealed that I was ALK+, but there weren’t any targeted therapies on the market quite yet. Doctors scheduled me for a pneumonectomy.
Five weeks after my left lung was removed, I had 4 rounds (2 weeks on, one week off) of Cisplatin and Navelbine. Ugh! Chemo was very hard. I grew up Catholic, but don’t practice any specific religion now. One day in the middle of chemo, I was trying to quiet/calm myself. Somewhere in the moment, I heard in my heart, “Trust me.” It was so clear. I go back to that often, especially those days before and after a routine scan.
My husband has been there for me every day. Some were very tough, and I know there were so many times he felt helpless, but I could NEVER have weathered this without him. My sisters have also been a fantastic support system. Though they live miles away, they came to be with me during the early days and were always just a phone call or text away.
Post-treatment I had to learn that I could function very well with one lung. I had been pampering myself, so one of my doctors recommended pulmonary rehab. That saved me. Soon after that I participated in the ALA Fight for Air Climb. I climbed all three buildings downtown; it was a great personal accomplishment.
I met Lori Tassin just a few months after I finished chemo. Lori was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in September 2010. She taught me about nutrition, alternative therapies, and to NEVER give up. We lived only a few miles apart, so we spent a lot of time walking/talking together, eating vegan, and advocating for radon policy at the state level. She died this fall. My heart still aches.
I experienced a set-back in the summer of 2013. I had been doing a lot of physical therapy for pain in my left hip. When I wasn’t making the progress we wanted, my therapist suggested I run it past my oncologist. It turned out that the cancer had metastasized. We were devastated!
The days after learning of the recurrence were very dark. Lori got right in my face and asked, “You’re not giving up are you?!” She helped me snap out of it and get busy directing my own recovery. I had regular radiation treatments and some CyberKnife.
Since the CyberKnife, all of my scans have been NED!!! I pray that cancer is behind me, but if I ever need a medical intervention, I will definitely explore the possibility of a clinical trial.
Hindsight has given me some great perspectives. If you’re facing a lung cancer diagnosis, know that you don’t need to rush through decisions. Do your homework. GET A SECOND OPINION, even a third if necessary! Only keep physicians on your team who are extremely knowledgeable of the latest in lung cancer treatments and that you feel truly have your best interests at heart. I ‘fired’ my pulmonologist because he didn’t believe that anyone but a uranium miner could get lung cancer from radon. He called and asked me to reconsider; that he was ‘willing to learn.’ I put him back on the team; now he is a huge advocate for radon awareness!
My youngest brother Chip is a stage 4 colon cancer survivor. He shared two nuggets of wisdom with me: attitude is everything, and this is just a bump in the road. When you’re diagnosed, you feel like you’ve lost all control of your life, but you always have control of your attitude. Chip never doubted that he would survive, so when I started up my CarePage, I titled it “myroadbump.”
There’s actually a lot more that you can control than your attitude — read Radical Remission by Kelly Turner and Anti-cancer by David Servan-Schreiber. Learn about all the factors you can control: diet, supplements, meditation, following your intuition, embracing social support, and deepening your spiritual connections. Rest often, laugh often, walk to the mailbox. Stay strong.
You are not a victim; you are NOT a statistic; you are a survivor!
I’ve become a volunteer with Free to Breathe and joined the committee for the Central Iowa Run/Walk in 2015. I tell my story to any group that invites me and share my passion about radon awareness. Every time there is a state legislative session I’m at the Capitol telling my story and asking legislators to help us make a difference in the lives of so many Iowans. Nearly 400 Iowans die annually because of radon-induced lung cancer.
There’s an African proverb: “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent the night with a mosquito.” I tell people, “Be the mosquito!” I never pass up an opportunity to educate someone about radon. Radon advocacy has become an integral part of my recovery. No one should hear, “It’s lung cancer” because they didn’t know about radon.
Cancer Hope Network is proud to partner with Free to Breathe to provide support for lung cancer patients and their caregivers. Each month, we feature a lung cancer survivor’s story. For more information about Free to Breathe, or to gain access to additional lung cancer survival resources, please visit http://www.freetobreathe.org/.