I was first diagnosed with small cell lung cancer (SCLC) in January of 2014 from a biopsy of the tumor that was sitting on top of my left lung. I had no symptoms I was ill yet I was urged by a radiologist who was a friend of the family to get an early lung cancer detection CT scan of the chest because I had been a smoker years before and grew up in a household of heavy smokers. So for me, it came as a total shock when I was told my diagnosis and “to get into the city for treatment, ASAP. “ For the next two years, I went through the standard treatment for limited stage SCLC, -chemo, radiation to the tumor, and prophylactic radiation to my brain. Good news, the tumor had shrunk but bad news, a new one had begun to grow in my abdomen. Now there was no option left for me except to go on an immunotherapy clinical trial, which I began in June 2015. I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve survived over two years thanks to being enrolled in the clinical trial with the bonus of having virtually no side effects.
I first heard about LUNGevity through my oncologist when he invited me to be one of his “patient-guests” at LUNGevity’s Gala in 2016. Encouraged by the speakers and to learn about more about LUNGevity’s focus on increasing the quality of life for cancer survivors and their caregivers, I contacted Katie Brown, LUNGevity’s Vice President of Support & Survivorship, to become a volunteer. I wanted to support other SCLC patients who were probably as confused and conflicted about their choices as I was when I was first diagnosed with this less common type of lung cancer.
Katie gave me information about “LifeLine”, LUNGevity’s peer-to-peer support program that matches patients and caregivers to mentors with similar diagnoses. LifeLine mentors forge a personal connection by getting to know their mentee, offering words of encouragement, and by sharing aspects of their own cancer experiences. LUNGevity connected me to my first LifeLine mentee in early 2017.
When I’m on the phone with mentees, I try to get a quick take on what that individual would like to get from speaking with me. I usually keep my personal saga with SCLC brief so the mentees have a chance to tell me what’s been on their mind. Sometimes, a particular part of their cancer situation is upsetting or causing frustration, while other times, they would just like to talk it out and have me listen.
If I hear we have points in common, I’ll say something like “I get it. X-Y-Z happened to me, too!” Then I reassure them that they will get though it and find the solution that’s right for them. Some mentees just want a one-time chat to know someone else has survived the same illness. Others, who don’t have anyone they feel close to, might call me more frequently.
One time I called Katie to get her advice on how to handle a situation that I felt was beyond my capacity to deal with. She was very understanding and together we came up with workable solution. So if you become a LifeLine mentor, don’t be afraid to reach out to the LUNGevity staff. They’re there to support you, too.
The most rewarding thing about being a mentor is hearing someone newly diagnosed with SCLC say, ”Oh I’m so glad I talked to you. I feel like this is doable now. If you survived, maybe I can too.” Hope is the most precious gift I could ever offer somebody, which may sound a bit drippy, but it’s so true. I get to offer hope every time I tell my story that I have survived longer than I, or anyone else, would’ve believed possible.
Photo credit: Ben Hider for the CURE Magazine