I’ve learned a lot about lung cancer since I was first diagnosed in the winter of 2015. I’ve learned that people can get lung cancer even if they have no risk factors. I’ve learned that you do not usually have symptoms of lung cancer until you are at an advanced stage. I’ve learned that most of the people who get lung cancer are diagnosed with stage III or stage IV disease. I’ve learned that the survival statistics, due to the chronic underfunding of research, are horrendous.
I’ve realized that so much of what I thought I knew about lung cancer is inaccurate. For instance, I thought I knew what lung cancer looked like: It was a sick person, an older person, somebody on oxygen ( if not a respirator). It was somebody wheezing, coughing, ashen, and dying.
That’s not how I look. That’s not who I am.
I’m a healthy looking woman, only 42 years old. I’m the mother of two small boys. I’m a practicing partner of a national law firm. I’m a lung cancer activist, working to improve the funding, treatment options, and the health outcomes for people like me — people who get blindsided by lung cancer.
I like to say that I look healthier than I am, and that I feel better than my prognosis would suggest I should. I say that because everything about me, from the way I look to the way I live runs counter to what people think about lung cancer.
Here’s the fact: I’m the face of lung cancer today. Look at me. See me. See that we need to re-educate people about this disease. We need a revolution, not only in how we think about lung cancer, but also in how we fund lung cancer research and pursue lung cancer treatments. We need bold new initiatives to find cures!
I’m willing to tackle that work. I’m blessed to be physically and mentally able to tackle that work. Personalized medical treatments developed in the last 5 to 10 years give me hope that a disease that might have killed me within months only a few years ago can now be held off.
Unfortunately, it cannot be held off forever. The drug I am on now has a median effectiveness of only 26 months. I’ve been on this drug for about thirteen months. As I swallow the light-as-air pills twice a day, I often remember that the clock is ticking.
But, right now, I’m here. I’ll fight this disease today because I have today.
I have stage IV lung cancer. That’s about as unhealthy as one could get, really. At least, that’s what the doctors will tell you. That’s what conventional wisdom will tell you. But when I saw that sign that cautioned people they should be “healthy enough” for the ride, I rode it. And it was really fun.
I’ve got lung cancer, but I’m still here. I’m still fighting. I’m still living. And, as long as I am living, I’ll enjoy the ride.