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21 yr. old dx. with lung cancer- here's Taylor's Story


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So much for lung cancer being a smoker’s disease that older people get. Let’s dispel that myth right now.

Taylor Bell, lung cancer survivor

My diagnosis came two weeks after my 21st birthday. So much for lung cancer being a smoker’s disease that older people get. Let’s dispel that myth right now."

Because I am an athlete, fitness has always been a priority for me. I ate healthy food, never smoked, and stayed fit and fast enough to make the women’s soccer team at East Carolina University my freshman year. Despite failing two fitness tests – which neither my coaches nor I could figure out – and experiencing a lack of feeling in my toes, I had a successful season.

Two years later, I got a bad case of pneumonia which took me to the student health center for a chest X-ray. The physician’s assistant reported spots on my lung, but figured it was pneumonia because I didn’t fit the criteria for a lung cancer diagnosis. However “further follow up is needed” was written on my x-ray but was never relayed to me because no one ever thought it possible for a 21- year-old healthy non- smoker to have lung cancer. A year later, I went to the hospital for abdominal cramps and while trying to figure out the reason for my pain, doctors found a 3cm mass on my left lung. The cramps were unrelated, but they probably saved my life.

It took two weeks and more tests before anyone used the term “lung cancer.” Thanks to doctors and nurses who were willing to think outside the box and test me for things that wouldn’t ordinarily strike a young adult, I received the correct, but very shocking news. How could this be? My diagnosis came two weeks after my 21st birthday. So much for lung cancer being a smoker’s disease that older people get. Let’s dispel that myth right now.

My surgeon at Duke University Medical Center removed a carcinoid tumor from my left lung in November 2007. Remember the lack of sensation in my toes and failed fitness tests? That’s because I had had a collapsed lung from the tumor for three years!

My five-hour surgery was performed with only two small incisions, but I had a tough recuperation. For five days, I had a chest tube through my ribs and into my chest to drain excess fluids. My family rallied around me and helped me every step of the way. My initial recovery was done at home, but in January (six weeks post-op) I wanted to return to school to be a “normal college kid” and also because my parents’ insurance would not cover me if I was not a full-time student.

I wouldn’t wish this experience on my worst enemy, but I do feel blessed that God allowed me survive. I am one of the lucky ones. I have no follow-on therapy and an 85 percent chance of survival. Because lung cancer is one of the “silent” cancers without symptoms, survival rates for most people with lung cancer can be as low as 15 percent.

Even though I am still in school, I am committed to raising awareness of lung cancer and fighting the stereotypes associated with it. I am living proof that non-smokers get lung cancer, too. I am active in the North Carolina Lung Cancer Partnership, helping them support research, awareness and change. I never thought of myself as a public speaker, but when my surgeon asked me to speak to 3,500 physicians assistants at their annual meeting, I did not hesitate. Health professionals need to push further in their diagnoses and treatments and if my story can inspire them, that’s reason enough for me to step out and speak up.

I may be young for someone with lung cancer, but I intend to make the most of my experience. This summer I will be a health policy intern for U.S. Senator Richard Burr and when I graduate, I want find a political science job that will allow me to make a difference in health policy. I want to give until it hurts.

http://www.canceradvocacy.org/community ... -bell.html

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