In 1998, Ruthe Cain was living life in California and enjoying being close to the fresh air and the great outdoors. She was in her late fifties and loved living an active lifestyle, but that year she would face a diagnosis that would change her life: she learned that she had lung cancer. More than 15 years and three surgeries later, Ruthe is still a survivor, and she’s still enjoying life in every way she can.
Ruthe first suspected something might be wrong with her health when she had trouble with her vision. “All of the sudden, it looked like a black veil over my eyes,” she says. She went in to see her doctor, and after a series of tests, she was surprised to hear that the problem might be not with her eyes, but her respiratory system. “I didn’t think a thing about my lungs. So they sent me in for a chest x-ray, and that was the beginning of it.” Ruthe was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer, and soon after, she underwent an operation to remove one of the three lobes in her right lung.
“After that first lobe was removed, I had no side effects at all. I was totally fine,” she says, and she continued to live an active life, snow skiing, and water skiing and getting outside throughout the year. She also kept up with regular lung exams in order to check for a possible recurrence. It wasn’t until a decade later, in 2008, that a new problem was discovered.
On a trip from Maine to Pennsylvania to visit her son and daughter-in-law, Ruthe felt a pain in her chest. “We went to the hospital, and they did a chest x-ray, and sure enough they found another node,” she says. With this second diagnosis of lung cancer, surgeons removed another lobe of her lung, and they also noticed some suspicious findings that indicated changes might be happening in the remaining third lobe. A year later, when a growth was detected, they removed the last part of her right lung, leaving only her left lung intact.
“I was really lucky,” says Ruthe. “I have never had [to use] oxygen, I’ve never had any radiation or chemo. But this last surgery, it was definitely a life changer.” With her whole right lung now gone, Ruthe had to cope with more serious side effects, such as an increased danger from chest infections and a noticeable amount of fatigue. It also meant some of the outdoor activities she had always enjoyed were simply no longer possible. However, she has found lots of ways to stay positive – and stay moving. “We got a dog a few years ago, so I am able to take her on the trail at the dog park,” says Ruthe. She also loves spending time in the pool with her two grandsons and recently enrolled in a water aerobics class that she attends with her husband.