Resilience through Small Cell Lung Cancer

Mary Casanova, Lung Cancer Survivor
Mary Casanova with lung cancer advocate Chris Draft
Mary Casanova with lung cancer advocate Chris Draft

It was November when I found the lump under my arm. I had been coughing for about seven months, I had a pain in my knee, and higher than usual blood pressure; while in hindsight these signs all pointed to one thing, it took over a month and three lung scans to figure out the origin of the lump.

On December 29, 2017, I was finally diagnosed with small cell lung cancer. Today, because of my experience, I have a passion for ensuring doctors listen to patients. I was a smoker for over 20 years, but my doctor never took precautions like pre-emptive scan; she simply gave me cough medicine, even after seven months of coughing. My story could have been different if my doctor had listened to me.

Luckily, they did eventually find it. Once we knew what it was, I immediately started chemotherapy. After three rounds, a PET scan revealed that I was cancer-free. I was relieved; to me, that meant my cancer was gone and this was over!

I was ignorant. I didn’t have friends or families that had ever had cancer. I never asked the right questions. I trusted what my doctors told me, and they never told me I would be suffering through this my whole life.  

Worse, I was overwhelmed. It was too much at once.  It’s hard to think of questions when you’re affected by chemo; chemo brain is real.  Because of my family situation, I went to my appointments alone. If possible, I really encourage you to bring someone to your appointments with you. They will be able to remember what the doctors say better, talk to the doctor with a clearer head, and ask the questions you might not think to ask.

There was a point when my older sister was finally able to come to one of my appointments. After, she encouraged me to get a second opinion from a doctor she found at a new cancer center. I am happy I went. These doctors explained that, with small cell lung cancer, you need to cover your bases; if small cell lung cancer comes back, it comes back in your brain.

My new doctor gave me a fourth round of chemotherapy and then radiation to my brain and lungs. Chemo wasn’t like what they show in the movies. I was tired and it was sad to lose my hair in 24 hours, but I was able to take medications that managed a lot of the other side effects. Radiation, however, wore me down. It didn’t hurt, but I felt tired all time. It also took my hair, even my eyebrows!

July 6, 2018 was my last radiation. Since then, I get my brain and lungs scanned every three months. I know it can come back, and I know it can spread at anytime. I get nervous and worried about headaches. I check under my arms to be sure nothing else is going on. I find it difficult to plan. I try not to have expectations about anything, just in case. It’s hard not to know what is next.

Despite living in limbo with my cancer, I feel okay. I feel healthy. I do everything normal people do: I work out, I read, I spend time with friends and family. This year, I was even able to celebrate the Fourth of July with my family.

My fight with small cell lung cancer was the biggest fight of my life. It took all my strength. I would never give up. I kept going and I kept going, and I’m still not giving up. Attitude is huge, and my resilience is what got me here today.

I’ve found that something that really keeps me going is being part of the solution. While I might not be able to raise all the funds that will cure lung cancer, I can help others. I can encourage people and make them feel like it’s going to be okay. I connect with others through Facebook and Instagram and other social media platforms and act like a lung cancer cheerleader.

If you are newly diagnosed or battling lung cancer today, I encourage you to adopt a similar attitude. Stand strong. Keep your faith.  And whatever you do, stay away from Google.

 

Related Reading:

My Lung Cancer Litmus Test

Finding Hope in Emerging Therapies

The Benefit of Early Detection in Lung Cancer

Blog category: 
-> Survivorship

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