Like most people, I had my normal routine – kind of on autopilot, like the robots we become. One day, I wasn’t feeling like myself, but I did the robotic thing and went to work as usual. I felt like I had a bad cold coming on and it was very hard to breathe, so I took a long lunch and planned a trip to urgent care.
When the nurse checked my vitals, she asked how I managed to get to the clinic by myself operating on only 30% oxygen. She was surprised I wasn’t in a coma. I went by ambulance to University Hospital and spent three days in the ICU, diagnosed with pulmonary edema and high blood pressure. I was put on continuous oxygen and told it would only be needed for a few weeks. But several follow-up visits later, nothing had changed. I was scared and fed up, so I was a little assertive: “I’m not leaving here today with the same information you’ve been telling me the last few visits. I do not feel good, and I need to know what the h*ll is wrong with me!”
The medical staff conferred for about a half hour and sent me for a CT scan, which confirmed a fist-sized tumor and lesions throughout both my lungs. I didn’t get to go home – I was immediately admitted to the oncology floor. Three days later, after numerous tests and five liters of fluid drawn from my lungs, I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.
That was on February 7, 2017. I had never smoked, and lung cancer came as a complete surprise. I felt like my whole world had crashed. I kept trying to play back in my head: were there any symptoms, was there anything out of the norm I had missed? Why me?
The next year, I was in and out the hospital with pneumonia, rhinovirus, and a blood infection. I had two types of chemo plus radiation to shrink my tumor because its position was causing my repeated bouts with pneumonia. The last round of chemo was aggressive. My hair was gone in two weeks, and I lost much of my hearing – 70% in my left ear, 30% in my right. It never returned, so I wear a hearing aid.
In December 2017, my oncologist found a clinical study that was available for adenocarcinoma patients like me. I jumped on the chance without hesitation. I just needed to try something new that might make a difference without all the side effects I’d been experiencing. The medication is a pill without a name, just a protocol number. About 250 people in the U.S. are taking it. My side effects are diarrhea and mild headaches, which is nothing compared to what I had gone through: fatigue, neuropathy, nausea, skin rashes, hair loss, and hearing loss. The tumor has shrunk about 20% since I started the trial, and I was able to go back to my job at Core-Mark International part-time in April 2018 after being on medical leave for over a year. I have worked since the age of 16, and I hated being away from my job for so long. That August, I went back to full time. I was promoted to Customer Service Manager and received the 2018 Employee of the Year Award.
Work takes my mind off my illness, and my co-workers have given me a lot of support. Core-Mark held a fundraiser and a silent auction on my behalf last summer at a ranch and raised over $5,000. I still can’t believe how much my life has changed. Having some normalcy helps me get through it all. I found LCRF when I volunteered to help with a Free to Breathe Walk in my city, and I was glad to do something to promote awareness of lung cancer and the need for research.
I thank God for every day that my name is on the wake-up list. It’s so easy to let cancer take over, mind, body and soul. I try to be a living testimony for people, to help encourage others with my drive and energy to fight.
Cancer picked me; I didn’t pick cancer. I tell everyone that cancer picked the wrong girl! I am a soldier who can’t stop — and won’t stop. I love being a voice for lung cancer and welcome the chance to talk about my journey. I’m lucky to have the support system from my family and friends. I believe and know that I am truly blessed.