I was diagnosed with lung cancer in August of 2011 out of the blue, totally unexpected. I went for a regular checkup after experiencing some gastric reflux and abdominal pain. The doctor suggested an abdominal CT scan. He called me back into his office and told me that, although the scan was of my abdomen, a part of my lung had been included. A little shadow had shown up there that concerned him. He asked me to undergo a second CT scan, this time of my lungs. That scan revealed a prominent area of masslike consolidation in my left lower lobe. The next day I saw my pulmonologist, who scheduled me for a needle biopsy. At the time, he didn’t think that the scan findings really indicated a lung cancer. I was not concerned either, as I had never smoked and had little history of cancer in my family.
I was traveling home from a visit with some friends when I got the call from the hospital. The emotional voice on the other end was cracking. I didn’t even realize that it was my pulmonologist. He said, “We got the results from your biopsy. You have a very large tumor taking up most of the left lower lobe of your lung. We have to get this right away. We’ll get through this honey.” It was surreal. I thought it was a mistake.
I was diagnosed with non-small cell adenocarcinoma. They scheduled surgery right away to remove a lobe of my left lung. That was followed by chemotherapy. It was a very tough time. After I recovered from that surgery and the chemo, I just wanted to go back to my life. I’d been very happy with my life. I was a volunteer chaplain. I didn’t know any other survivors and I didn’t want to think about lung cancer anymore. They said I only had 15% chance of the cancer coming back so I wasn’t going to worry about it.
A year later, the cancer came back. Looking at the scan, I felt like I was in a nightmare. The second surgery to remove the rest of my left lung was easier, because I knew what to expect. But after that surgery and treatment, I knew I needed to get plugged in and started searching online for an organization that could help.
I liked that LUNGevity Foundation was constantly posting helpful information and seemed focused on survivors. Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I had enjoyed the experience of mentoring, so I applied to be a LifeLine support partner. Nikole from LUNGevity reached out and invited me to attend the HOPE Summit survivorship conference. One of my friends went with me and we had such a wonderful time. HOPE Summit changed my life.
Before that time, I had been pretty isolated as a survivor. When I walked in and saw that many survivors, I was amazed and overwhelmed. Hearing others share their experiences changed my whole attitude. The main thing I came away with after HOPE Summit is “be your own advocate.” My amazing friends that I met through LUNGevity connected me with my current doctors at UT Southwest.
Any time that you need support from LUNGevity, it is available. I am a LifeLine mentor to other survivors, but I also have LifeLine mentors who have helped me through two recurrences of cancer. They’ve really inspired me and kept me looking forward. Mentoring is a two-way relationship. If they’re feeling down, I can help them and if I’m feeling down, they can help me. It is so rewarding. I’m also a LUNGevity Social Media Ambassador.
I’m a big believer in the power of connection. If we isolate ourselves, we focus more on the negatives and everything that’s wrong. But if you’re out there connecting with other survivors, you’re sharing the ups and the downs, you’re not alone. It really helps. The advice I like to share with other people who have lung cancer is if you don’t like what one doctor says, it’s very important to be your own advocate. It’s your life!