I am a research nurse. Working in breast oncology, I understand what patients go through and how nervous they can be about getting a scan done. I have a different relationship with it than I had before.
In addition to being a research nurse, I am a mother of two and a wife of one, and I have a dog. We enjoy spending time together, watching movies, hanging out, riding bikes, and doing things around the community and our neighborhood. So pretty much, we're just an average family.
For years, I had a chronic cough. It was just a cough; I never thought much of it. My family doctor at the time ordered a chest X-ray and additional tests but thought it was allergies. My treatment plan included some over-the-counter allergy medications that didn’t make a difference. So my doctor thought it might be acid reflux, but that medication didn’t make a difference either. I began to live with this cough and didn’t think much of it.
Months later, my family doctor retired. I scheduled an appointment to meet my new primary care doctor, but I had been experiencing extreme back pain. It was debilitating. So I called to see if I could meet with my new physician sooner.
At my appointment, I had a full work-up with a chest X-ray. She said the X-ray showed something, so then I received a CT scan, which also showed something. She was very concerned and referred me to a pulmonologist. At the pulmonologist's office, I received another X-ray and additional testing. Eventually, it was determined that I had lung cancer.
After being diagnosed with lung cancer, I had additional testing to see if I had any mutations. If there’s a silver lining to my story, I tested positive for an EGFR mutation, which had targeted therapy medications options.
After coming to terms with my diagnosis and beginning treatment, I reflected on my family history. My grandfather passed away from lung cancer. Coincidence? Maybe. His sister, my great-aunt, also was diagnosed. After speaking to a few cousins, one cousin, her mother and my grandfather’s sister also had lung cancer. I later found out that another family member had died of lung cancer. I had a test that said there could have been a familial link that predisposed me to lung cancer.
Unfortunately, my cancer was caught late. When I was diagnosed, it had already metastasized and was at stage 4. So my outcomes are not as good as they could have been. But given the fact that I caught it when I did and that my doctors are being proactive with my care, perhaps this will give me more time.
Being diagnosed with lung cancer was a shock for me. My mom passed away from breast cancer, so I knew that cancer was something that I could encounter. But I didn't carry a smoking history. I didn't have a hard life history or some other stigmas that come with lung cancer.
When I began to tell others about my diagnosis, I faced a lot of comments. Some of the common responses I got were:
But that’s the stigma. Lung cancer is a disease for people who smoke or have to do something to get it. However, anyone with lungs can get lung cancer. You don’t have to be a smoker or partier. I and others among that population of nonsmokers prove that. We were unfortunately diagnosed with lung cancer.
For me, I should have thought something was wrong. I thought maybe everyone coughs up phlegm every morning. My advice is if you think something is wrong, it probably is – and take action as soon as possible.
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