I’m Pam, an 11-year employee with Lutheran Services Florida.
In December 2018, I received the shock of my life. I found out I have Stage III Lung Cancer. Everything in my life has since changed. I’m hopeful that some of this may help some of you make choices I had not yet made, and maybe prevent some of you the condition I am now addressing.
I have since learned a great deal, that had I known some of this earlier, I would have made different choices, long ago. I learned that I had overestimated the progress we have made in treating cancer and underestimated the risk of lack of symptoms.
This is the story and what I have learned.
On December 14th, 2018, I went to the doctor because my usual winter bronchitis just wasn’t clearing. I had a cough and some shortness of breath, (that I had never experienced before) and said ‘enough’. I went to get what I expected would be the usual zpack, etc. Within 1 hour I was told there was a large mass in my Left Lung that could be cancer. I was referred to a pulmonologist and conducted a biopsy and confirmed that this is a “non-small cell lung cancer – adenocarcinoma”, the kind most often developed by smokers.
I learned that lung cancer progresses Symptom Free, until there is some other medical reason for a Chest X-Ray. The tumor in my lung is 8.4cm. That is as big as a small fist. It grew for at least 6 months, if not longer (probably longer), before I knew it was there. The PET scan showed that not only is there a single large mass in my Left Lung, but there are 2 lymph nodes with active cancer cells in them. These two lymph nodes are so close to my heart that I am not a candidate for surgery. This cancer is inoperable. I had no idea it was there and growing.
For Lung Cancer, the 5-year survival rate is about 30%.
I’ve learned the survival rates for my type of cancer. Because it progresses symptom free, it eludes the early detection that so many other cancers now are identified with. Because it is not identified early, it grows to advanced levels without awareness. Once advanced, the prognosis for full recovery, in later stages, is not good, at all. For comparison, the 5-year survival rate for breast cancer is about 80% – for prostate cancer about 90ish. For Lung Cancer, the 5-year survival rate is about 30%. I asked my medical oncologist – who hesitated to give me a projection but did answer my question on the “number”. For Stage III, the “median” survival is 20-24 months. (I have NO intention of being near that “median” point.) I also discussed it with my radiation oncologist when I asked about hope. He said, ‘we don’t really know why / how, but about 20-30% of people go on to what is called “extended survival”.
That’s my plan – to be an “extended survivor”. While I am absolutely doing all I can, make no mistake, this is an uphill battle. Cancer is stealing some of my life longevity. The question is how much.
I’ve learned that cancer mutates. This “first- line” treatment that I am receiving, (chemo and radiation) will be followed by “maintenance” treatment; to prevent and slow down “progression” (secondary tumors, spread to other organs, or resurgence) until it is not effective. How long and how often that cycle will repeat depends on how my body responds to the various treatments. That is highly Individual.
I’ve learned a great deal about how diet affects the atmosphere that seems to add to the body’s vulnerability to cancer. I am the first person to Love a good rib eye and baked potato, no real problem with that occasionally, but I was NOT getting the vitamins and nutrients from things like vegetables, etc. that strengthen my body’s resistance to disease. I now “juice” every morning with lots of vegetables and fruits. Since one of the major side effects of the chemo, is degrading my immune system, red blood cells and platelets, I am targeting foods that support my cells. So, if the price I pay for getting effective chemo is LOTS of vegetables and fruits… OK! The point for each of you is to be mindful of what helps and hurts you in your diet.
I’ve learned that the withdraw process is worth it. To be clear, I was a smoker, for many years. I knew it wasn’t good for me, it was bad for me, but I wasn’t motivated “enough” to quit. I didn’t want to go through the withdrawal process, and the “cost” of smoking didn’t seem to be higher than the cost of withdrawal. I was wrong. Also, I learned that I had allowed myself to ingest smoke, for about 50 YEARS to avoid several WEEKS of discomfort with the withdrawal.
I’ve learned that there ARE tests for those at risk, (CT with light contrast). To increase early detection, this is a conversation to have with your doctor.
Currently, I’m in active treatment and hopeful that my body responds well. It seems to be, so far.
So, yes, everything in my life has changed. I am hopeful that for those who read this, it may give pause for thought. The TV commercials don’t address the stealth nature of lung cancer… the poor prognosis, the mutation, the progression or the changes that just may save your life. Maybe, just maybe, this info will help someone make a different decision. I wish I’d had this info 20 years ago. Now I do, and so do you.
I wish you all the very best.