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Teachable Moments


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Teachable Moments

June 2nd, 2014 - by Katie Brown

Melissa Crouse is an educator who teaches orchestra and chorus in a middle school and she is always looking for those “teachable” moments.

Diagnosed in 2005 with non-small cell lung cancer, people are always asking her if she smoked. Melissa explains that anyone with lungs, even never smokers like herself, can get lung cancer too.

In fact, over 60% of people diagnosed with lung cancer are never smokers or ex-smokers who quit decades before they were ever diagnosed. One in fourteen people will be diagnosed with lung cancer and it’s the deadliest form of cancer, claiming more lives than breast cancer, prostate and colon cancers combined.

Because lung cancer research receives the least in federal funding dollars, we need educators and advocates like Melissa to share their stories and raise awareness about the disease.

“I realize that the majority of people just don’t know much about lung cancer, so as a teacher, I explain the facts to them. I spread the word through my facebook page, news stories, and as a speaker at local events. I also have an opportunity to spread the word through my students when they ask why I have to go to Boston for treatment. The word then spreads to their parents.”

Melissa also believes in the importance of being your own advocate, asking questions, researching your disease and the treatment options that are available. Being an empowered and informed patient has helped her in the eight years since she was diagnosed. Melissa has had four recurrences which have resulted in four different treatments and credits a clinical trial for saving her life after her first recurrence. She highly recommends that people ask their doctors about clinical trials.

Being informed and having good communication with your doctors also helps when experiencing side effects from treatment. Melissa deals with fatigue, severe neuropathy in her right hand and has been hospitalized due to her treatments, yet she continues to work and keep herself active. She credits her family, friends and colleagues for being such a big support to her.

“Survivorship means living my life as ‘normally’ as possible. I regard cancer as a nuisance and my attitude is that I may have cancer, but it doesn’t have me. I’ve had to slow down some and ration my energy to get through some days, but I get up (reluctantly most days), and know that once I get to school, I’ll be ok. I truly believe that my students have kept me going!”

When asked what advice she would give to someone who’s been newly diagnosed with lung cancer, Melissa says, “Seek out an oncologist who specializes in your specific type of lung cancer. Find a “mentor” who has had the same experience. Take things a day at a time…sometimes a minute at a time.”

“As strange as it may sound, cancer has made me a better person. I’m more patient and I appreciate the little things…well EVERYTHING more than I used to. I have such a different perspective now.

Melissa’s mantra: “Just keep swimming!”



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