What do you say when you are diagnosed with Stage IV non-small-cell lung cancer at age 49? Why me? What did I do to cause this? What is my life span? How do I tell my kids? How to I tell my family? Will my friends treat me differently? Can I still work? What are my options? Do I have the necessary skills to fight this? Am I going to be mentally and physically strong enough to go through this? Will my husband be okay? Will we lose our house? Can we handle this financially? Will I look like a cancer patient? That is what went through my head in July 2013 when my world spun out of control.
A routine preoperative chest x-ray prior to a hysterectomy was not good which prompted a battery of tests and the devastating news that life as I was accustomed to was gone in the blink of an eye. Time stood still and it felt like we had entered The Twilight Zone. There are no words to describe the feelings of being told you have incurable, inoperable Stage IV lung cancer in both lungs. Radiation was also out of the question. I was in shock, dismay and absolutely blown away. How could this happen to a healthy 49-year-old nonsmoker, fairly healthy eater, regular exerciser and without any symptoms to speak of? There is a whirlwind of emotion and anxiety that goes into this and it is extremely hard, even to this day, to put my head around all of it. After surgery, a biopsy , CAT scans and MRIs, it was determined that I have the genetic mutation EGFR that caused me to develop lung cancer. I did not inherit from anyone and I will not give it to my kids, tears of relief for that and no chemotherapy as first line of treatment as I qualified to take a pill, Tarceva, due to genetic mutation. I dodged the chemo bullet temporarily and could continue working and living somewhat normally. Now my husband and I are experts in all things relating to lung cancer and the EGFR mutation, not something we thought would ever occur in our lives. We now navigate our way through the medical terminology and all that goes with it. The diagnosis is always at the back of our minds and never silent.
I had many things I wanted to accomplish in 2014 including our older son’s graduation from college, our younger son’s promotion to high school, 25th wedding anniversary, 50th birthday, Eagles concert; all checked off the list. Frankly, I did not care what happened after all these things were checked off; I just wanted to make it through each one and feel okay. Distractions, at least for me, are very important in keeping my mind at ease in giving me and my family something to look forward to. 2015 is upon us and there are new goals and things to begin checking off the list.
It is hard to stomach that my type of cancer will never completely go away and will progress and spread somewhere else (in my bones now) so I will be on some form of chemotherapy or an anti-cancer drug for the rest of my life, however long that may be. It is most humbling knowing that your life span is significantly shorter than you were hoping and that is a hard pill to swallow. Not very encouraging for certain to know you will be filled with chemicals for the rest of your life, but better than the alternative. Tarceva worked for one year and four months which is actually longer than most people. No major side effects to speak of and they were manageable nonetheless. Progression of the cancer in my lungs was found in October 2014, so on to Plan B, chemotherapy. I am more than halfway through Plan B and have not suffered many ill effects and for that I am lucky and fortunate. There are many more letters in the alphabet, so I say bring it on, I am ready for Plan C. Survivor mode is what we as cancer patients go into and get used to the “new normal” routine whatever that is. I have not felt anger as there is really not much I could have done or can do about it.
The initial shock has worn off and the emotional upheaval has settled down and life must go on. There are too many things to do to dwell on it. I have my family to take care, friends to see, a job to do and a house to keep up. I feel fortunate to have a job, loving and supporting husband, great kids who make me laugh daily making fun of my bald head and chemo brain, wonderful family support, such good friends, and a fantastic oncologist who has helped ease our minds and takes great care of me. What more could I ask for, except to be cancer free of course, which is not an option. I could not have gotten through any of this without this support system. Of course, there are days when I am down and have an uncontrollable feeling of guilt that I am putting my family through all of this, but it does not last very long. I snap out of it, keep going and think of more things to check off that list. I try not to let the little things get me down and remember that I am still the person I was before cancer and that cancer does not define who I am. I was dealt a bad hand of cards, but it is what it is and I am dealing with it to the best of my ability.
How do you balance your cancer fight with your day-to-day life?? Leave a comment below and let us know!