The shock of a lung cancer diagnosis
En route to her grandson’s birthday party in late 2004, Bobbi Cohen felt what she describes as a “fleeting” pain in her chest. She mentioned it to her daughter who, in turn, shared this information with her father-in-law, who was at the party, and also happened to be a physician. Out of an abundance of caution, he suggested Bobbi go to the ER. On his advice, she did.
She relayed her symptoms: that “zing” she had felt in her chest, and some stomach issues over the previous few days. Her blood pressure was alarmingly high. That, coupled with her stomach complaints, prompted the ER team to order a CT scan of her abdomen. Though alarmed, the last thing Bobbi had on her mind was a lung cancer diagnosis.
Her stomach was clear. However, the pathology reported an incidental finding: something in her right lung. Bobbi was sent home with instructions to follow up in 6 months or so. Her gut told her not to wait that long.
Fortuitously, Bobbi had an appointment with another physician for an unrelated issue just a few days later. While there, she shared the symptoms and scan results of her ER visit. This physician referred her to a thoracic surgeon who, in turn, immediately ordered a chest CT.
The next couple of weeks would prove to be an emotional rollercoaster. While the chest CT confirmed the presence of a nodule, it was actually on Bobbi’s left lung – not the right one as had shown up on the stomach CT. Bobbi recalls her doctor telling her, “I think you have lung cancer.” Because she had none of the symptoms normally associated with lung cancer and had not smoked in over 30 years, Bobbi was floored by the possibility of a lung cancer diagnosis.
Three weeks after that “fleeting” pain in her chest, Bobbi underwent a wedge resection on her left lung. When the pathology report came back, she received great news: the nodule was benign. Her joy was tempered, though; her surgeon wasn’t buying it. Two days later, in a crushing blow, Bobbi would learn that her doctor’s instincts had been correct: the pathology had been misread. Bobbi had lung cancer.
Finding support in the face of her disease
Still reeling from the all these ups and downs, days later Bobbi would have the upper lobe of her left lung removed. Despite clear margins, her doctor recommended a three month chemotherapy cycle – an insurance policy of sorts. And then life went on. Regular scans of her lungs revealed the best possible outcome: no change.
Until, that is, in late 2016 when a thickening of the nodule drew concern.
Bobbi’s case went before the tumor board. They concluded that a “wait-and-see approach” — scanning every 4-5 months for any changes — was appropriate protocol.
Although Bobbi’s lungs are not, and probably never will be, clear, she is not currently undergoing any treatment. More to the point, the nodule remains unchanged.
Living with a lung cancer diagnosis takes strength. Bobbi credits not only to her children and grandchildren, but also her “Lung Cancer Sisters”; other women—warriors, really—who are in this battle right alongside her for her ability to tackle each day of living with lung cancer.
“The gift of this is having these women, most of whom are the age of my children, in my life. I don’t want anyone I know or love to understand this, but these women do and we are always there for one another.”
When she reflects back on these past 14 years, Bobbi is acutely aware of how much the landscape of lung cancer has changed. At the time of her lung cancer diagnosis, the statistics were grim. The very idea of living a full and happy life with lung cancer was so outrageous, so inconceivable, it was almost irresponsible to even consider. Yet now there are days she forgets she even has lung cancer.
Bobbi still has “scanxiety” and will remain anxious until the doctor reports, “No change.” At the same time, she is highly aware of an inner depth of gratitude for every event, every occasion, every joy that she has been fortunate to experience since her lung cancer diagnosis.
Fun story: A couple of years after her diagnosis, Bobbi, in a highly uncharacteristic move, bought herself a gift; a brand new Lexus.
“For me, at the time, it represented a luxury car that I never thought I’d own. My own mortality was hitting me in the face and I decided that I deserved that luxury car, for however long I’d be able to enjoy it. I’ve been enjoying it for 11 years!”
Bobbi’s ability to find daily strength in the face of her lung cancer diagnosis inspires her family, her fellow lung cancer patients, and the larger LCFA community. Learn more about survivors like Bobbi who are living with lung cancer and advocating for lung cancer research.