On July 1, 2020, at the age of 33 years old, I was diagnosed with stage IV Adenocarcinoma.
I had some mild symptoms before my diagnosis, but they could all be explained away. Beginning in December 2019, I had a light cough and experienced abnormal fatigue, but I have asthma and worked out a lot and I assumed it was all related.
The cough and fatigue didn’t get any better, so my primary care doctor sent me to a pulmonologist. She performed an x-ray and breathing tests, and I just knew that she was going to say that everything was fine. When she walked into the room her exact words were: “WHOA! Something is in one of your lungs, and I have no idea what it is.”
The pulmonologist wanted to biopsy the area, and I thought it would be a very simple process. However, a week or so after the procedure, I started having complications from the biopsy. I had to go to the emergency room for a collapsed lung (pneumothorax). The thoracic surgeon performed surgery to repair my lungs and, while operating, took another biopsy sample. He then discovered the cancer in both of my lungs. I really hoped that he was wrong, however, a few days later the oncologist confirmed that it was definitely cancer.
Before I started treatment, my husband and I had to make some tough decisions. We haven’t had children and were faced with the possibility of my eggs being damaged due to the treatment, and any pregnancy would have to be terminated. We had to decide if we wanted to freeze my eggs before treatment started, which would delay the treatment, or possibly not be able to have kids at all. We decided to move forward with the treatment immediately.
I started a combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy in August. The first few months of treatment, I felt awful; I was so fatigued and there was very little that I could do. It would take me over a week to recover from the treatments each time.
After those first few months I was taken off the stronger chemo, and things got better. I felt physically stronger. I also started to understand the disease better. When I was first diagnosed, I couldn’t retain much of what my doctor was telling me. For example, I knew from the beginning that I didn’t have mutations, but I didn’t know what that meant. As time went on, I learned more about my disease, which made it easier to handle. This, paired with more energy and feeling physically better, made it easier to live life more normally.
I am still coming to terms with my diagnosis. How I feel changes day by day, more so the mental aspect than the physical. When my oncologist first told me I had lung cancer, I thought I was immediately going to die; I think that’s what most people think when they hear stage IV, no matter the prognosis. I don’t think that anymore, though. I am hopeful that I might be NED (no evidence of disease) someday.
Support is essential to how I’ve made it this far. Support from my husband, family, friends, coworkers and other survivors. I appreciate all of the support that I have received so far from everyone; it really means a lot. I’ve learned that all support is not good support, though; it’s important to find what works for you.
I initially tried local support groups, but found them to be unhelpful and negative. I realized it was important for me to find people closer in age to myself who had a similar experience as I was having. Through LUNGevity’s LifeLine, I was partnered with a mentor who is also a lung cancer survivor in her 30s. While our situations are different, it’s so helpful to talk to someone else who is going through what I am.
I found Facebook groups for people with lung cancer; they are so positive and hopeful. I started reaching out to people in the groups and began sharing experiences with them. If you are looking for a connection like this, it can be as simple as messaging someone, “Hey, I saw you have lung cancer, would you like to talk?” Every single person I reached out to responded to me.
At first, I had trouble telling people my cancer was stage IV. When people hear “stage IV,” they think death, and I don’t want people to see me as at the end of the line. Some people also took the news worse than I did. They would start crying and I would have to comfort them rather than vice versa. I actually had anxiety about having to tell people because I had no idea how they would react.
My last scan in December 2020 showed an almost 50% reduction in one lung, and I am currently doing well. It’s still difficult, but I feel more positive and determined than when I was first diagnosed. Even after I cry, I remind myself I need to get it together and keep it moving.
While I may have been hesitant to tell people it was stage IV, I’ve never shied away from telling people I have lung cancer. It’s important to me that they know it’s lung cancer so they can understand that anyone can get the disease. I have never been a smoker and it frustrates me when people ask if I’ve smoked, but my husband helped me to understand that I can use this opportunity to educate people about lung cancer and the statistics.
Lung cancer taught me to celebrate everything. Before my lung cancer diagnosis, I was the type of person who would only celebrate birthdays if they were milestones. Since my diagnosis, I look at life totally different. Now, I celebrate every day. Scan shows reduction? Celebrate! My hair growing back? Celebrate! Lose 5 pounds? Celebrate! You never know what’s going to happen in life, so there’s no reason to wait for major things to celebrate.
Initially, prior to my situation, I thought “cancer survivor,” meant you beat it. Now that I have cancer, I look at it totally differently: I am a survivor. I am surviving every day with this stage IV disease. I am living my life as normal as possible. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.
- The Importance of Community for Lung Cancer Survivors
- Palliative Care: An Important Tool for Advanced-Stage Lung Cancer Patients
- Coming to Terms with a Lung Cancer Diagnosis
Natalie Brown is in software sales and enjoys providing happiness to her clients. She was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer during the pandemic, which made things a lot more challenging. She is focused on raising awareness and educating others about lung cancer. Natalie enjoys working out, playing with her puppy, spending time with her family and friends and traveling.