On October 24th of 2018, I was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer adenocarcinoma stage-3A.
I had the classic symptoms for an apical (pancoast) lung tumor for nearly a year. During this time, I had pain in my upper chest just above my breast, pain under my right shoulder blade, pain in my right arm from my shoulder down to my hand, and my underarm went numb. I was in so much pain that I cried all the time. Time and time again, I was improperly diagnosed with a pinched nerve in my neck by different doctors. You have to be a relentless advocate for your own healthcare, and finally I received an accurate but life changing diagnosis. However, that news came with no hope from the physician other than control of my pain through medication.
I was in complete shock. I was terrified. I was very angry. And I was very embarrassed, because I was a smoker. Interestingly, adenocarcinoma is more commonly associated with non-smokers. Going through seemingly never-ending rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments was very difficult, and always left me wondering “How am I going to survive this terrible disease?” And so I locked myself away in my physical and emotional bubble, absolutely devastated.
In July of 2021 during a visit to a surgeon’s office, I happened to see a flier for Lung Cancer Initiative, and I took a picture of it. But I was so completely locked away in my bubble that I never went to the internet to search for lung cancer support groups. A couple of months later in September, I was scrolling through my photos and I happened to notice that flier. It was just a few days before the walk, and I decided that I wanted to go and see if I had the strength and the courage to do this walk.
When I showed up on the morning of the walk, it was an awakening for me. With the incredibly welcoming support of the LCI staff and volunteers, and the other survivors, I finally had the strength to pop that bubble I had lived within for so long. And that is why my team name for the LUNGe Forward is “Beyond the Bubble.” That is also why I’m out there talking about lung cancer and sharing whatever I can.
I do think the stigma surrounding lung cancer definitely affected me. However, because I finally accepted my disease, now I can continue with my life. I have white ribbons attached to my mailbox post, on my front door, in my vehicle rear window, and I wear a white ribbon pin all the time. It’s been a journey.
I want others to know that it’s okay to be angry, and you have every right to be. But there is hope. And if you are diagnosed, get whatever support you can because it is so important. Not only for the survivor but also for the caregiver. Survivor-to-survivor support is meaningful because even though we are all on different journeys, we can relate to one another and that devastating moment of diagnosis.
Every free moment I have, I’ve tried to do what I can to support the Lung Cancer Initiative, because it’s very important for me as a survivor. I was diagnosed with a second primary in November of 2021, which was surgically removed. So I know that we must continue to support medical research to address this disease – not only for me, but I especially want the other survivors and those that follow behind me with a lung cancer diagnosis to live.
A year later, my husband and I were at the North Carolina Museum of Art, where the walk was held in 2021. There is a mural on one of their buildings, and we went out there to take pictures of it with my white ribbon. My husband stood there, looked at me, and said, “This is where it all started.”
Thank you, LCI, for all that you do.