On April 4, 2016, I received news that would change my life forever: my mom had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Before my mom was diagnosed, I knew nothing about lung cancer. I assumed that it was a smokers’ disease and that it was relatively easy to treat. I had no idea that lung cancer kills more people than breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers combined, and that people who never touched a cigarette could get lung cancer. After all the health classes and anti-tobacco programs I went through in school, I still felt unprepared for the road ahead.
When I look back a year after my lung cancer diagnosis, I wish there were more resources, support, and education readily available for myself and my family. It was not until 10-11 months into my journey that I got connected into national lung cancer support groups, educational resources and different events focused on lung cancer. From the time I was connected to these support groups to now, my outlook on lung cancer has changed 180 degrees.
I was diagnosed on April 21, 2017, at the age of 31 with stage IV lung cancer. My primary diagnosis was right-middle and partial right-upper lobe with metastasis to my brain and mediastinum lymph nodes in my chest. Being a former collegiate and Olympic level athlete, and being in the military at the time of diagnosis, I was in great physical shape with little or no symptoms. It was a shock to be told I had the deadliest form of cancer* and that just 1% of patients with my diagnosis survive 5 years.
My experience with lung cancer started out scary just like any cancer diagnosis. The first three months after my diagnosis were filled with fear of the unknown. It took a while to wrap my mind around the fact that I had cancer and to come to peace with it. During that time, I prayed a lot and I thought about life and my kids and what I needed to plan for them. I would sit outside by myself in quiet reflection and I would journal my thoughts and feelings.
There are a number of side effects that lung cancer patients have to face, including nausea, diarrhea, and fatigue. Fatigue is one that is harder to combat because it can affect every aspect of your life. For many people it is hard to function and do basic activities like dressing, cleaning, and eating. The good news is that there are a few things that a lung cancer patient can do get more energy and fight fatigue.
In the spring of 2016, I signed up for my first indoor triathlon. I was 36 at the time, and I had set a goal earlier that year to be at my healthiest and fittest when I turned 40. I have two little ones, who were 5 and 7. I wasn’t just doing this for myself but for them as well. I want to live a long healthy life so I can be around to watch them grow up. I want to be able to stay active with them and enjoy exploring life together.
Usually I'm able to write my column because something is on my mind, or at least percolating in there somewhere. At the moment, nothing is on my mind or even remotely percolating. The reason for this lack of percolation is that as of Saturday, eight days after my last chemotherapy infusion, I still haven't been able to think clearly in my mind - or out of it, because I've spent the past week wallowing in it.
The use of dietary supplements during cancer treatment can be a confusing topic for lung cancer patients. With conflicting information on the Internet, as well as advice from family members and friends, it can be hard for patients to decipher what is beneficial for them and what could be harmful. Many supplements have misleading claims, as well as hard to pronounce ingredients that can make it impossible to know what you are actually getting.
LUNGevity kicks off Lung Cancer HOPE Month (May) each year with the largest gathering of lung cancer patients and lung cancer caregivers in the country at our National HOPE Summit conference. This year our event was held April 27-29, and it did not disappoint!
This conference is a one-of-a-kind lung cancer survivorship weekend for newly diagnosed patients to seasoned survivor-advocates. We also hold an advocates meeting and a COPE Summit track for lung cancer caregivers to provide advocacy opportunities, best practices, caregiving resources, and psychosocial and peer support.
Though I immerse you regular readers in the excruciating details of my cancer-affected life, rarely do I bombard unsuspecting conversationalists who unknowingly yet sincerely wander into territory with which many of you are intimately detailed. Not that I don't have stories to tell, and/or perhaps even unsolicited advice to offer; generally speaking, if I can avoid it, I don't want to drag the conversation into a cancer-centric black hole.