Alesha’s Story: Research Nurse and Lung Cancer Patient


I hope my story helps others: If they think something's wrong, act on it, don't ignore it.

November 14, 2022


April 2023 update: Alesha Arnold passed away in February 2023. Her compelling story lives on as a testament to her life and work to bring awareness to lung cancer. 

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.


Just a cough


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.


Being diagnosed with lung cancer


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.

In the U.S., 10%-15% of lung cancer patients are EGFR-positive. Most patients with EGFR mutation tend to have minimal to no smoking history.

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. 


The stigma 


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.

Disclaimer: This content is provided for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute providing medical advice or professional services. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, and those seeking personal medical advice should consult with a licensed physician. Always seek the advice of your doctor or another qualified health provider regarding a medical condition.