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My wife, Heather’s lung cancer was discovered by accident. She was having an abdominal CT scan when the doctor noticed a small shadow on her lower right lobe. She subsequently had a chest CT scan. The Thoracic surgeon felt it was pneumonia scar but it was too small for a needle biopsy so he ordered a PET scan.
We went for the PET scan and the radiologist who did the scan also read it and told her immediately that she did not have cancer. (It was not until a couple of years later that I actually read the report which indicated that there had been mild FDG uptake in the upper left quadrant of this spot.) She started having follow-up CT scans every 6 months. On one scan, the report came back that the spot had diminished in size. We were excited because cancer doesn’t shrink but unfortunately not informed enough to know that positioning during the scan can make a difference. She was then moved to an annual CT scan.
Heather had her annual scan in July 2012 and we went to her parent’s cottage at the beach for a couple of weeks. When we returned home there a message on our machine to call the Thoracic surgeon’s office for her appointment. This was a new surgeon as the previous one had retired. She called the office and the receptionist said she was booking her for an appointment to see the surgeon because of the growth in her lung. The receptionist assumed that our family physician had informed us. I immediately called our family physician who was doing rounds in the hospital and asked him what was going on. He didn’t realize that the appointment would be set up so quickly and apologized and we made arrangements to meet at his office. We are fortunate to have such a wonderful family physician who we used as the center for all future appointments and advice.
Heather underwent a wedge resection on Labour Day weekend 2012 to remove her tumor. The tumor tested positive for NSCLC Adenocarcinoma and was scheduled for a lobectomy to remove the bottom lobe of her right lung. This operation was performed on the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in October, along with a wedge resection of a nodule in her middle lobe and Lymph node sampling from the mediastinum and hilar. She was Stage 3a T2N2M0 with metastasis in three different lymph node stations. All her lymph nodes also had vascular involvement. Her oncologist patted her knee and told her that she had a 15% probability of surviving 5 years. On New Year’s Eve, ending 2012, Heather began 4 rounds of chemo, Cisplatin and Navelbine followed by 25 radiation treatments.
This has been a journey with many ups and downs with a few scares along the way but she is currently stable and enjoying life.
Today, I happily paint two of my toes red, to celebrate two years of being a survivor. Some days I ask myself it has really only been 2 years because it feels like I got the diagnosis so long ago. Lots of scans and needles and chemo and radiation and....I'm still here!
I woke up this morning, very cheerful, almost like I was celebrating a birthday. I realize that EVERY SINGLE DAY is a gift, whether we have lung cancer or not, but that cancer seems to make each day that much more important. While I was thinking about everything today, I was overcome with emotion. I know that I am blessed to have as much time as I've had. I think about the friends I've made in this "club" that are no longer here. For those friends, and for the rest of us, we continue to choose life.
It was mid-morning on a beautiful February Sunday in Texas when my phone rang. Randy’s name flashed on my phone screen and on realizing who it was, my mind raced to recall the last time we spoke. Pam his wife greeted me, a mild surprise.
Randy and I grew up in the same Pennsylvanian township and attended high school together. Our lives parted with college and after an Army career took me everywhere but home. Randy settled in our hometown. We had many things in common including surviving lethal cancer.
Five years ago, Randy and I had a fortuitous meeting online in a cancer blog site. Randy was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). We soon reconnected and were gabbling away during marathon telephone calls. When we spoke, our wives went shopping!
Our last conversation was shortly before the Super Bowl. Randy’s disease reoccurred and he was back in chemotherapy. He’d seen blood work indicators during the fall, yet he remained hopeful that treatment would again arrest his cancer. Randy’s form of CLL was characterized by adverse prognostic factors. CLL is rarely cured; never cured applied to Randy.
While recurrence and mortality were frequent topics, hope and joy always dominated our conversations. We helped each other find meaning in our fragile lives. We coached away depression. We talked about everything: music, obtuse rock-in-roll lyrics, being young, high school girls, cars, motorcycles, politics, military tactics, bourbon, ballistics, physics, even the strength characteristics of bolts. We formed a bond of friendship experienced by few.
Pam’s voice was a tell and then instantly I knew Randy was no longer a survivor. Our friendship ended on February 17th. Pam is without her beloved husband, and I am missing my dear friend. Randy was a man of great wisdom tempered by uncommon common sense. His virtues of kindness, selflessness, and courage stood like great pillars in our least-common-denominator world. Today, that world is smaller, colder, and far less interesting.
Stay the course.
October 30, 2015 will forever be the day my world changed. That day I heard those words that no person wants to hear: “You have cancer.”
I kept questioning how this could happen to me. I was a healthy, 35 year old nonsmoker, and a mom of two great children. I came to learn that you don’t have to be a smoker to get lung cancer. Honestly even if one was a smoker, would it matter? No one should have to go through this terrible journey.
Soon after my diagnosis I saw a surgeon and was told that I was not a candidate for surgery, as my cancer had metastasized to the surrounding lymph nodes. Instead of surgery, I was scheduled for 35 sessions of radiation and two rounds of chemo infusion, believing that if the treatment was effective that surgery could be an option to remove the remaining cancer. After my initial chemo and radiation was complete the tumor in my lung had shrunk considerably and lymph nodes appeared to be clear of cancer. Good news, right? Unfortunately, new scans showed that what had been an inconclusive spot on my liver had now grown into a tumor, and my official diagnosis was changed from stage 3b to stage 4. The new tumor meant surgical treatment was no longer an option, and that medicine is my only hope.
At that time my husband and I realized it was time to get a second opinion, which turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. My new oncologist tested my cancer for genetic mutations. At the time, I had no idea what he was even talking about. Then I received a call from him on a Friday afternoon stating I have the EGFR mutation. I could hear the joy in his voice. After doing some research I came to understand that this was a very good thing, and within a few days I started to take a targeted therapy called Tarceva. My quality of life is way better than I would have ever thought possible. I’m now 37 and living with stage IV lung cancer, hoping that medicine advances faster than my tumors.
During my initial treatment I was bitter. I did not want to hear “you can beat this” or “you are the strongest woman I know” or “you are a fighter.” I just wanted to get through my treatment and move on with my life.
As much as I hate my cancer, it has taught me some valuable lessons. First, it taught me to slow down. I didn’t realize how much I was just trying to get through life, instead of actually living it. Ironically, I enjoy life more now than ever. Second, don’t sweat the small things. Living with a terminal illness helps one understand what‘s really important in life.
Kateri and her family
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Had my last chemo on Aug. 3 and C. T. scans of chest, abdomen, and pelvis toward the end of August. The 3 tumors in my lungs had shrunk and still no spread of the cancer seen anywhere else. Have recovered from chemo side effects and just been enjoying not having to think about or battle the cancer for a while. Don't seem to have any long term effects from the radiation. Had a short bout of more coughing and shortness of breath right after last chemo. But from what I've read this could have been the result of the chemo or the radiation or both. A short course of steroids took care of that and have had no trouble since then. Will be having P. E. T. scan in early Dec. So far, have been happy with my treatment. I believe it was the best I could have been given in the circumstances.
Part 3: Resources
One word that is perhaps overused in the professional cancer services field is a word that is also overused in many other humanitarian fields: “resource.” Sometimes, it seems like a catch-all. What do you guys offer? We offer resources! Hm.
What does “resource” mean to you?
To me, it means something that is drawn from by someone in need of help. Something that is stocked and available to give concrete assistance in a particular situation, and is either infinite in itself, or can be replenished.
A replenishable replenisher, if you will!
When I see fellow caregivers ask other fellow caregivers “what can I do? How can I help you?,” the answer is always the same. It’s an answer we see every time we ask the #LCCaregiver Twitter chat community the same question: what can your CG family do for you? What is the best way we can be a resource for each other? What can we do for you that is not already being done for you?
The answer is so profoundly simple: be there. Listen. Lend a supportive ear. Be a safe space for venting. Sympathize.
As much as we all sincerely want to “do more” or “be more” for those who are in our same situation, it seems as though the most important release we can expect from within the “pack” is the one thing we can’t really get from anyone outside the “pack:” understanding. As with any other experience in life, the bond formed when we realize that someone sincerely feels the same way we are feeling in response to the same stimulus is both profound and instant.
Only our fellow CGs “get” how we have time to do the shopping and the laundry, but do not have the time to answer the texts or get to the post office (or vice versa), without requiring an accounting of our hours. I swear, my dear non-CG friends and family who may see this, that I know you do not require timesheets from me, but sometimes it feels as if you do. Meanwhile, people who have undertaken a similar journey are not surprised at all when I explain that the day somehow did not actually contain 24 hours as promised on the packaging.
As useful (and awesome!) as it would be to live in a place where we could all physically pitch in for our fellow carers (a caregiving co-op of trusted co-carers? Say that five times fast…), it is MORE than enough to lend a shoulder and an “I hear you.” Your support is enough. YOU are enough. Something you have to say could make all the difference in the world for a new or overwhelmed caregiver.
So: the number one resource that caregivers have are fellow caregivers. Find them. Reach out. You’re in the right place to start, here on the LCSC: use the Caregivers message board.
Use the “LUNGevity Caregivers” Facebook group here: http://www.facebook.com/groups/LungCancerCaregivers/.
Come find a buddy in the LifeLine program here: http://www.lungevity.org/for-patients-caregivers/support-services/peer-to-peer-mentoring/lungevity-lifeline.
Come to our monthly #LCCaregiver Twitter chats!
If you have been doing this a while, find someone who is new to the situation. Someone who needs to be told “it’s okay. I promise. You will find the new normal. It will become routine.
Don't help me.
I am a fiercely independant woman. i am a survivor. I am strong. I will beat this (insert cancer type/condition here) and my life will inspire others. If I show weakness then it wins. I will get up everyday and tackle the world. I will do my hair and put on lipstick and look as amazing as I can so no one will know that I am "sick". I will not ask anyone for help. I will carry all of the groceries into the house. I will change the water bottle on the water cooler. I will carry packages to Fex Ex. I will walk the dogs. I will drive myself to scan appointments and blood draws and biopsies. I will wash and dry laundry and I will never miss a single day of work.
Please help me.
I get up everyday in pain. It takes me longer these days to do my hair and put on my lipstick. I carry all the groceries into the house and I have to sit, catch my breath before I put them away. I wait until I am practically dying of thirst before I change the water bottle on the cooler. I carry the heavy packages into Fed Ex one 5 pound box at a time. I no longer walk the dogs- that's what the doggy door is for. I drive myself to scan appointments and wring my hands and bounce my leg because I am afraid of bad results. I drive myself to biospies and sometime I cry when I'm alone and putting my clothes back on. I can take laundry for 4 people up the stairs and put them away, but my body will hurt for two days after. I never miss a single day of work- but sometimes I am working from my bed.
It's easier for me to help others than it is to help myself. While I want to do everything myself- there are times that I get really annoyed if those I love don't offer to help me.
To their credit how can they know I need help when I don't look or act "sick"?
Recent EntriesLatest Entry
My name is Eleanor
I have cancer, but it is not who I am.
I am not a number or the result of a
My name is Eleanor
I am a baby at my mothers breast.
I am a toddler being thrown high in
the air by my father and giggling.
I am a young girl playing with my
dolls and my trucks.
I am a teenage girl going on my
first date full of nervous anticipation.
I am graduating high school and
trying to figure out what next.
I am a young woman walking down
the aisle with the love of my life.
I am an employee and a homemaker
I am a new mother.
I love my family, my friends, roses, cooking
I love watching sappy old movies and
going through a box of tissues while
munching on popcorn.
I love to dance and sing.
I am a woman, a wife, a mother, a sister,
a granddaughter,a niece, an aunt, I am
a grandmother and a great grandmother.
I am all of these things and more but what
I am not is a disease.
I have cancer and it may destroy my body
but it cannot touch my spirit or my soul.
So you see although my body may have cancer it does
not have me.
My name is Eleanor.