My cancer journey began in December 2009 when I decided it was time to clean our bathroom. My usual weapons of choice were bleach and Scrubbing Bubbles . Evidently I got a little heavy handed, and in addition to cleaning the bathroom, I combined the bleach and ammonia, which created a cloud of noxious gas that gave me a horrendous cough and multiple respiratory issues.
My doctor was concerned enough about my cough to order a chest x-ray even though he didn’t think I had given myself chemically induced pneumonia. Turns out he was right. I didn’t have pneumonia but the radiologist noticed a nodule on the right upper lobe of my lung.
Because I had no risk factors for lung cancer (I had never smoked, been exposed to asbestos, or lived with a family of smokers) and my PET scan was negative, I embarked on a series of CT scans. If after two years, the nodule showed no growth, then it would be ruled just something I had breathed in that had calcified.
Of course, I just knew it was going to be benign (because I didn’t smoke) but I compliantly went for my scans. In September 2010, the third scan showed the nodule had grown by 30%. It was still small but my research on the Internet said that a growth of 20% is a red flag. We had to find out what it was and the only way to find out involved thoracic surgery.
I found a surgeon who performed video-assisted thoracic surgery. On October 5, 2010, a biopsy of the nodule revealed stage 1A adenocarcinoma or LUNG CANCER! Stage 1A meant there were no lymph nodes involved and with the removal of my right upper lobe, I was cancer-free. It also meant I have to admit that bathroom cleaning saved my life!
I decided that since I had cancer, I wanted to see an oncologist. I’m so glad I did because he had my tumor tested for a driver mutation. It turns out, I was positive for the EGFR gene mutation, which helps predict what chemotherapy may be most effective in treating the cancer.
But seriously, lung cancer!?! How? I was trying to live a healthy life. I exercised, ate right, and even ran a half marathon 10 days before my surgery.
Don’t you have to smoke to get lung cancer? In a word, NO! All you need are lungs to get lung cancer. Approximately 20% of patients diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked and 60% had stopped smoking 15-25 years prior to their diagnosis. That means 80% of all lung cancer diagnoses occur in non-smokers or former smokers.
Lung cancer is the #1 cause of cancer-related deaths. More women will be diagnosed with lung cancer than breast, ovarian, and cervical cancers combined. More non-smokers will be diagnosed with lung cancer than diagnosed with melanoma, brain, and thyroid cancers combined.
I struggled after my diagnosis to know what to do next. I know how lucky I am to have been diagnosed early, and I wanted to do something to raise awareness and to show support and compassion for lung cancer patients. I found no such group in my local community. Instead I found that the stigma of lung cancer was alive and well (that unspoken feeling that people with lung cancer have somehow caused themselves to have cancer by smoking).
I decided to help make a difference. If I couldn’t find a group locally to plug into, I would create my own. That’s when I partnered to bring the first local chapter of a national lung cancer organization to Nashville: Lung Cancer Alliance – TN Chapter.
Like PearlPoint Cancer Support, I hope to create a community of hope, support, and compassion for all those whose lives have been interrupted by lung cancer. Cancer left me wanting to give back. If you’re looking to make an impact, there are many organizations where you can volunteer and work directly with cancer patients. Donating your time and expertise are tangible ways to make your community a better place and to have a positive impact on the lives of people just like you.