Read my full story below, in my own words, as featured on LUNGEVITY in January 2020.
I was 37. I was healthy, exercised daily, ate well, and had never smoked a cigarette in my life. Yet on August 17th, 2019, I received the news that changed my life forever. A tumor. A mass. Cancer. In my lungs and spreading. Stage IV. I was now the <1% statistic. This is not supposed to happen, yet it is. How did I get here? I just had a lingering cough and now this….
For about 2 months prior to diagnosis, I had what started as a persistent, dry cough. As a mom of a toddler, I assumed it was something I picked up from her and didn’t think much of it since no other symptoms ensued. The cough progressed, and I finally went to the doctor for my first misdiagnosis of pneumonia. Chest x-rays showed fluid in the lungs and off I went with my antibiotic treatment. But there wasn’t any progress after that, so I went back to the doctor. Another round of x-rays showed no improvement, so again I went home with more antibiotics, cough medicine, and my pneumonia diagnosis. Things progressed heavily within that week to the point where I was out of breath climbing the stairs in our house and coughing so violently, I was gagging and cracked a rib! (which I found out later). My husband encouraged me to go back to the doctor to demand more answers and options, and so I did.
Luckily, the doctor that day knew something else was going on. She directed me to head straight for the emergency room at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Fast forward through the multiple blood tests, continued questions, a parade of practitioners, and finally to the CT scan results 8+ hours later. I was in front of a sea of doctors that evening when they broke the news. I had a mass (the size of two fists) in my left lung, crunching on my left main bronchial tube (which was causing the coughing), and it was likely cancer—progressive, stage IV cancer as it had started to spread to other organs. I was being admitted to the hospital with a bronchoscopy scheduled in the coming days to confirm their initial findings.
In that moment, my life froze and became a film strip of moments I had already lived, flashing before me in crisp progression. I was in shock, but also felt calm and strong heading into next steps. I didn’t know much about lung cancer at that time, but I knew enough about myself to know I would persevere.
Waiting for tests, results, and their explanations proved to be a challenging time. My family and I desperately wanted answers (like how in the world did we get here? And what can we do about it now?), but had to wait and keep waiting for them. I left the hospital 5 days after my initial CT scan, with just cough medicine and a two-week wait for my biomarker testing results. And my own personal notebook full of notes, information, and next steps.
15 days later, it was confirmed I tested positive for EGFR and was provided the option of taking a targeted therapy pill called Tagrisso. I’m fortunate to benefit from many advancements in lung cancer treatment options, thanks to so many people that have come before me. This targeted therapy allows the cancer cells to be directly attacked, without harming healthy cells, all by taking a once daily pill. Having previously explored chemotherapy early in my diagnosis, I consider myself one of the lucky ones to have this medication at my fingertips each day.
And it’s working. Within days my health improved, symptoms subsided, and I felt like myself again. Six weeks later in my follow up CT scan, I showed 80%+ progression on treatment and road towards full regression ahead.
My gratitude for this health restoration journey is hard to put into words. Initially, I navigated down a dark, internet information spiral in hopes of learning more about lung cancer in non-smokers. I was baffled and wanted answers. However, that proved to be a scary road full of statistics…none of which I determined were about me, about my body, and my journey. So I stopped.
By the time I came home from the hospital, I was already focusing on the good things that were coming into my life. Friends and family from near and far were reaching out and sharing their love and well wishes with me. While I waited on my medical team to work their magic, I started focusing on what I could control. For me, it began with mindset and diet. There is so much power in believing and focusing on the good vs. the bad, willing positive energy into your life, and focusing on the positive restoration outcome to follow. This helped will me the strength to start embracing my whole body – not just my lungs – and transitioning to a holistic, healthy-living lifestyle. I read countless books, started a plant-based diet, engaged in alternative therapies to heal the mind, body and soul. I also said “yes” to anyone who raised a hand to help, offer support or just to talk. And it worked! The more love and light I shared, the more came back into my life: more information, more access to resources, more people with knowledge. I’m here today to write my own story, my own case study, my own statistics, so that I can help others do the same.
Today, I feel more optimistic and positive than I have in my entire life. I am full of positive energy, love, and possibility. Cancer did not bring me to my knees; it brought me to my feet. I have learned so much already and know the gift of knowledge will keep on giving. I want to help share these insights with others; this is what inspired me to start my own healthy living blog, luvyourlungs.com. There are so many basic healthy living tips and resources we can all adopt, whether you have cancer or want to prevent it, yet most of us don’t know or know where to start.
My mission now is to help spread the power of knowing, and my online outlet has already helped me reach and impact so many. This is what gives me hope each day - knowing that my own journey is a purposeful one to help raise awareness, fundraise for LUNGevity to support critical lung cancer research, and advocate for more pre-screening of lung cancer. To know that I can help influence and shape the lives of others touched by this disease is an incredibly powerful gift, just like those that came before me. I know my journey is unique, because we are all unique. And I will continue to write my own and share my gifts with others along the way. #luvyourlungs