Monthly Archives: November 2012


Yet another guest post from INSPIRE, Nancy also urges others to be their own health care advocates and to not shy away from second opinions:

DSCN0658My name is Nancy. I am 55 years old. I have always lead an active life. And…I still do! I enjoy golfing, reading, reality TV, classic rock, and keeping my pet rats, (I have 6), loving cats, listening to my beautiful red factor canary sing, and working full time as a perioperative assistant for the OR in a busy hospital.

My nightmare began over 6 years ago. I got very sick and ended up in the hospital with pneumonia. I ran a high fever, and was extremely ill. The ER doc told me after a CT scan, that there was a spot on my lung. They did not quite know what it was, so they put me in isolation to rule out TB., which I tested negative for. I was taken out of isolation and before I went home, I asked my family doctor if I should get a lung biopsy, did I have cancer? I was told, no, it was only a pus pocket. I took his word that I was OK, and went back to my life. I forgot about it. Time went by, and I became a pretty healthy woman again.

Then, two summers ago, I became ill with bronchitis. I was treated with numerous antibiotics and it kept coming back. To my shock and horror, a random x-ray found a mass in my right lower lung. I was totally blindsided when I found out the mass was in the exact same area as the spot from 6 years earlier. I was diagnosed with NSCLC adenocarcinoma on September 27, 2011. The same day of my biopsy, I went to the family doctor who misdiagnosed me. He asked me how I was. I told him “not too bad considering I just had a lung biopsy”. Then I let him have it with both barrels…needless to say, he is no longer my doctor!

I had my right lower lobe removed via VATS on October 23, 2011. I am stage 1B. I began 4 rounds of cisplatin-alimta in January, 2012 and finished in March of 2012. I went back to work that April. While I was home during my treatment, I set goals for myself. I was determined to go back to work and not let cancer take over my life. I admit to having scanxiety during scan times…but, I just had my latest scan and I am NED (no evidence of  disease) and have been for 13 months now. Happy dance!

I am a non-smoker. But, I was working in bowling alleys for over 20 years when I was younger and breathed in secondhand cigarette smoke. Did this cause my illness? I think it is a big part of what happened to me, along with the fact that I live in an industrial area, near several auto plants in a suburb of Detroit. Cancer also runs in my family, so it may be genetics.

I take life day by day and know that every day is a gift. I do not really believe that cancer happens for a reason. I feel that part of it is just plain old lousy luck. But I can say, I have begun some wonderful friendships since I was diagnosed. I have done things I would have never thought I would have done including learning to draw blood and also changing jobs completely. No one in my new department knows that I have lung cancer. I am keeping a huge secret, but I am also giving myself a chance to be just one of them and to just be ME. No one to feel sorry for me, no one to look at me and think she has IT. I say never ever give up, fight with everything you have…Be strong, stay busy and focus on your life.. And, most of all, be your own health advocate. Never, ever blindly trust something a doctor says. Get copies of your records, and get other opinions.



Alta, yet another of my INSPIRE friends, speaks of the importance of listening to one’s body. A delayed diagnosis is a common scenario in lung cancer, and for never smokers, tell tale symptoms such as a chronic cough are generally attributed to benign causes. Alta urges everyone to become their own advocate:

When complete silence surrounds me I detect a humming sound coming out of my chest cavity. This reassuring high pitch wheezing is a constant reminder that my lungs are still functioning. They started this musical whistling duet about two and a half years ago. From time to time the palpitation of my pounding heartbeat merges with the duo, which adds tempo to my organ’s musical talent. We are all guilty of forgetting how vital our lung function is; then the silence of their fine tuning gets damaged and we remember. A noisy interruption in their muted function is similar to the loud sound a siren makes announcing the arrival of a dangerous storm. We then have the choice to either cover our ears until the warning goes away or do something about it immediately. A simple examination by a doctor will frequently but not always help you distinguish whether you have a minor case of bronchitis or something more serious. Lung disease does not discriminate; no one is spared from any respiratory endangerment; even those who do not smoke or have never smoked.

For quite a few years I chose to ignore the warning signs and as long as it didn’t stop me from enjoying my early morning runs; why worry? With time the elusive little cough had all grown up and began to rudely interrupt my discussions and to slow down my exercise routine. Neglecting what is important in life isn’t a trait I have in my personality. I rarely ever missed my annual medical exam and in spite of my children’s occasional disappointments; I always prepared wholesome meals. Nonetheless, I was so busy caring for my family’s welfare that my own sometimes went unnoticed. Cigarettes never tempted me and I have always been diligent in maintaining a healthy existence. There was no plausible reason for my doctor to suspect that my tenacious cough was life threatening; subsequently, I was misdiagnosed from 2007 until 2010, when I finally demanded a chest x-ray.

After the Pulmonary Specialist read my questionable chest x-ray; he immediately asked me to have a Thoracic CT scan done which was followed by a PET scan: Per the Specialist’s request Tom and I went to see him the day after the PET scan was done. The doctor sat down directly across where I was sitting, took a glance at my husband Tom, look at me and said with a soft stern voice:

“Alta, you have lung cancer.”

The sound of the warning siren was so loud I became deaf to every word that was said after that.

I was referred to a Thoracic Surgeon and on August 19, 2010, at 8:00 in the morning the surgery was scheduled. I had a Thoracotomy/Lobectomy of my upper right lung and during the surgery the doctor had no choice but to break and spread two of my ribs. I have a concave shaped rib cage; “concave” meaning it turns inward versus turning outward; which made the surgery a complicated one. Nearly three hours later a two centimeter Bronchioloalveolar Carcinoma Non-Small Cell lung tumor was removed along with my whole upper right lobe. The lymph nodes surrounding the cancer area were taken out as well, which was a good thing because a minimum of A-typical (pre-cancerous) cells were found after the biopsy.

The day of my surgery I woke up lying on a hospital bed in the ICU; two plastic draining tubes were protruding out of my operated rib cage; an intravenous needle was inserted and taped on top of my right hand administering morphine and another needle was located in the fold on my left arm providing antibiotics. A lumbar epidural catheter was embedded near my spinal cord between the shoulder blades injecting an anesthesia from a plastic pouch. Two more small plastic tubes were placed in my nostrils passing oxygen through my lungs. I swallowed a powerful pain killer every three hours and even though all these precautions were taken; unless I was knocked out with a sleeping agent, I still felt an excruciating pain racing through my body. This physical state lasted for seven days and eight nights. At the end of my hospital stay and still paralyzed with pain; I felt a thin stream of tears flowing down my cheeks and I thought, “I should have had a chest x-ray sooner. Why didn’t I get an x-ray?” I don’t know if my life has been extended by the painful trials I’ve been through: I just wish I had listened to all the warning signs my “subtle little cough” was revealing more attentively.

Please broadcast the importance of an early chest x-ray screening. It takes very little time and who knows; it may spare you from years of physical trauma and a lifetime of worries.


A gentleman known as stageIVsurvivor

This particular guest post is actually the distillation of a telephone conversation that I had with my friend known by our online community as stageIVsurvivor, but more informally as G. When I became part of the INSPIRE community four and a half years ago, G was already a well established member, and practically a legend.

Diagnosed on November 30th, 1999, G’s lung cancer had metastasized to his brain. Nonetheless, his oncologist was confident that his cancer could be cured and remarkably, after a combination of surgery, chemo and gamma knife, G has been out of treatment and cancer free since November of 2000.

Prior to his diagnosis of lung cancer, G smoked. And he still does.

I will be the first to admit that I have had some trouble with this fact, as it flies in the face of all reason. Forget stigma for a moment; it just seems like a good idea to stop smoking if you have lung cancer. However, I am also adamant that one of the best ways to combat stigma is for smokers and former smokers to stand tall and refuse to be bullied or shamed into believing that they somehow deserve a diagnosis of lung cancer. No one deserves this or any other disease, and I was pleased when G agreed to share his story.

After our conversation, I came away with a much greater understanding of who this complicated individual is. Certainly, as a long term survivor of stage IV lung cancer, he provides incredible inspiration. In our forum, he often injects a dose of humor. Occasionally he can come across as a real curmudgeon, and G and I have had a dust-up or two. However, if you were to ask many of those he has helped behind the scenes, they would describe a generous and caring individual.

I was curious as to why someone who had not been in treatment for 12 years would be drawn to a support group for lung cancer survivors.  “I’m just one of the very, very lucky ones…it is my responsibility to do what I can for other people.” G emphasizes that his continued “participation on Inspire is only to help those still suffering and their families“.

Crediting an amazing medical team for his successful treatment, G is on a personal crusade to educate others about the importance of “proper treatment, proper direction and proper insight“. He abhors complacency, and often urges patients to seek a second opinion.

As for his own unconventional approach to survival, G is blunt. First, about the fact that he initially faced his diagnosis with anything but optimism. “I was angry and had a horrible attitude“. Unfortunately, G also ended up addicted to pain medication, and at one point just wanted to give up. However, he experienced a moment of clarity, realizing that he ‘wasn’t dead yet‘. Even while “lamenting the fact that I wouldn’t be around to raise my sons” G acknowledged that he “wasn’t doing a good job then“. He went into rehab and beat his addiction to the pain meds.

And so why does G still smoke? Certainly, there was a sense of “the horses are already out of the barn“–the damage done. But it would seem that the real reason is that having beaten both drugs and alcohol (G acknowledges that he has an addictive personality), he has found nicotine that much more difficult to kick. He’s giving e-cigarettes a try, and if they don’t do the trick, he may try something like chantix. Of course, given his personal stuggle with addiction, he is leary of any chemical intervention.

At any rate, on November 30th, G will mark his 13th year of surviving stage IV lung cancer. He’s a very lucky man, and he knows it.


Today’s guest post is from Cindy. This was her first Thanksgiving since Tim’s passing, and she found writing about him quite emotional but also cathartic. Interestingly, Tim also had an ALK mutation, an uncommon occurrence in someone with SCLC.

My husband, Tim, died from non-small cell lung cancer April 27, 2102 after a two and ½ year battle; he was 51 years old. In April of 2009 he had a complete physical and received a clean bill of health. In June he started feeling run down and had a nagging cough. He went to the doctor. Mind you this is about the 6th time I had seen him go to the doctor in the 25 years we had been together. They x-rayed and gave him steroids. He felt better with the steroids, but the cough and fatigue returned after the doses ended. He was also noticing that the eye sight was getting worse in one eye. He went to an eye doctor who immediately sent him to a specialist. The first diagnosis was ocular melanoma, not to be confused with skin cancer. We were terrified, but had a clear plan. After a standard PET scan to be sure it had not spread, they would radiate the cancer with a small puck behind his eye. Done. We even consulted with the radiologist and were getting ready to schedule the appointment. We received a call from the radiologist saying they saw something on the scan. Apparently it had spread. They did not think it was ocular melanoma anymore. Next step, biopsy. Of course we all know the answer to the biopsy question. Prognosis was about 16 months. As terrified as we were with the ocular melanoma diagnosis, at that point I would have given anything to go back to that point.

I will say that Tim (and I) smoked for many years. We quit when Tim turned 40 and he was diagnosed with lung cancer at 48. We have two teenage children who lived through this with us. They are caring and compassionate children and this experience has made them more so. When he was diagnosed Tim asked them to please, for him, don’t turn to drugs or alcohol to drown their sorrows. He asked them to live their life to the very fullest, if not in spite of this, because of this. We vowed to spend as much time together as a family as we could and started planning many, many wonderful vacations and events for the 4 of us. We had some real fun.

After about 8 months of the normal treatments Tim’s oncologist sent us to the University of Colorado Hospital where we met Dr Ross Camidge. There our hopes were bolstered. Turns out Tim had the ALK gene and was able to start on the crizotinib trial. What a miracle. He was feeling great, the cancer was gone. We were having a blast! The best part of that lasted about 8 months. The cancer then found its way to his brain. Whole brain radiation followed and then some progression of the cancer in his liver. The end of May 2011, right after a high school graduation cruise for our daughter, he was removed from the trial. The next 9 months were up and down. There were new trials and new trial failures. There was more radiation and then finally, nothing they could do. He held on so tight and tried as hard as he could. I know he was so very worried about his family, but when they told him there was nothing else to do, he was able to let go. His passing was quiet and beautiful with me, our kids and our dogs there to help him go.

Tim will be remembered for his great sense of humor and positive outlook on life. He always had something good to say to the doctors and staff and was always trying to make them laugh, even when they were telling him bad news. He rarely complained and tried his hardest to participate in everything up until the day he passed. Heck, he worked almost every day until about 2 weeks before he went. He was a good man and my best friend and, smoker or not, he did not deserve to have to leave us so soon.


Sean, yet another INSPIRE friend, was diagnosed with lung cancer on the 23rd of December in 2009. Now 48, He divides his time between New York City and Westhampton. The father of two beautiful children, Sean realized he was gay after fifteen years of marriage. In Sean’s own words:  “I did not want to live a hypocritical life so I decided that my wife and I should split up. I wanted my children to know what it means to be true to oneself. My kids accept me for who I am.” 

Sean goes on to explain that in order for him to retain his medical benefits, he and his wife remain legally married. The kids spend equal amounts of time with both of their parents, who remain committed to an open, loving and supportive family. Says Sean, “Almost five years later we are still almost best friends. We talk about boys together and ask how we are each doing.

Sean goes on to say, “Living with cancer is very challenging but I can actually say these have been some of the best years of my life. Love is what got me through–I have an amazing beautiful partner who cared for me and my kids with exquisite kindness and a web of friends that held me up. I quit work and now focus on my family and me. I have become the parent I never was when I was working sometimes seven days a week. I planned weddings for a living. Each wedding’s budget was anywhere from 250k to 1.5 million. I have a little less money but who cares. Living life is more important. I live my life saying I had cancer and if and when it might come back I will deal with it. But for now I just do not have cancer anymore.” 

Sean has approached his cancer holistically, and he counsels others living with this disease to “Stay positive, reduce stress. Treat the mind as well as the body. I always say that my oncologist treated the body while my integrated oncologist treated my mind. When I was first diagnosed I did vibrational healing, meditation, tibetan bowls, chanting…and lots of walking per the advice of my super hero surgeon, J. Sonnett.

Finally, Sean offers this simple advice: “Enjoy life to the fullest and live everyday like it is your last.

Liz and Berry

Next up from my friends on INSPIRE are some observations about the impact lung cancer has had on their lives by Liz, wife to Berry. Liz notes that post diagnosis, she and Berry, who was diagnosed with non small cell lung cancer in July 0f 2012, have only grown closer as has their faith in God.

Our faith and relationship is stronger than ever. We have begun to realize that we each are ‘only’ human and accept each other for the person we are.

Some friends and family have fallen away; having to hear about cancer is unpleasant and a reminder that no one is invincible. Every couple will be separated by death at some point and we remind people of that fact.

For the 20 months that Berry was ‘stable’ people assumed he was ‘cured’ but WE have lived in 3 month increments from scan to scan waiting for the ‘other shoe to drop’ and praying it would not. It did. In August 2012 his scan showed progression of the main tumor and a very small ‘suspicious’ area in the other lung.

Now that he is back in treatment, we are once again the unpleasant reminder to some. But thankfully we have a few friends and family who have and will always be with us in this battle. We are more than blessed. We hope and pray our faith has inspired some to seek Him.

We have been blessed with many ‘good’ days and several trips to the ER. I am still on ‘high alert’ for any symptoms of the beast gaining ground.

We have lost friends to cancer. Friends we met during treatments, friends made online while sharing our struggles. Each and every one breaks your heart a little more.

We have grown older than our years and sometimes wiser!

The grandson we are raising is in 1st grade. The tooth fairy has come back to our house after a long retirement…our other grandchildren are blooming where they are planted. A constant source of pride and joy.

We have taken a few vacations, driven many miles, seen wonderful sights, caught a lot of fish, laughed a lot and cried many tears. Prayed hard and often.

We have learned that life can be bad but living is good.

Life should be lived one day at a time.

Appreciate what you have, it might not be there in the next breath.

Trust God.

Just breathe.

God bless us all,


Next up is a guest post from another INSPIRE friend, Valerie. She shares her observations on how lung cancer can impact our personal relationships. A never smoker, Valerie has redefined the risk factors for lung cancer. Please welcome Valerie:

“I was diagnosed with NSCLC (adenocarcinoma) in Nov. of 2011 at the age of 48. As a good friend put it, I was a “sick healthy person”.

My entire right lung was removed and all adjoining lymph nodes came back clear. There was no other cancer noted in PET scan or brain MRI and I opted not to do adjuvant chemotherapy.

I’ve been married for 27 years (to the same guy!) and have two sons, ages 23 and 26. Our older son is a mechanical engineer and our younger son is in his last year of college studying music technology.

I am active, optimistic and otherwise fairly healthy. I enjoy photography, gardening, and pretty much any outdoor activity, but especially hiking and kayaking. I am an active volunteer in my church and community, primarily serving organizations that help kids. I work for a children’s multispeciality clinic where I am the intake coordinator for speech therapy services.

I guess first and foremost, I’d like to say that doctors are not God, they are human beings. They have feelings and biases just as any other human. Do not allow them to write your story; only you can do that. If a doctor is not accepting of your thinking, desires or wishes, get rid of them and find another one.

Be aware that cancer really messes with your head. One minute you will have thoughts of “I really need to have this checked out by my doctor” and the next minute you’re thinking “I’m fine, this is nothing to worry about.” One minute you will think, “I can and will survive this, I won’t let cancer win.” The next minute you’ll think, “This crap could take my life, and I don’t deserve to die this way.” These are all very normal thoughts.

Relationships will totally change…some friends and family will ignore that you have cancer, tiptoe around, avoid you or say offensive things. Don’t let that get to you; our little human brains are not wired to wrap thoughts around mortality and the possibility of suffering. Other friends and family will absolutely embrace you and be by your side through everything. Take good care of those people, and strive to keep them close to you.

Finally, I can say that each person will have their own individual journey with cancer. Some have journeys that are cut entirely too short. Others have journeys that seem to go on against all odds and no one knows why. It is a journey filled with potholes, beautiful scenery and some sticky thorns, but it is a journey that we take one step at a time.

Anyone with lungs is at risk for lung cancer. There are 6 major risk factors for lung cancer, and I had none of them, so I added a 7th risk factor, which is “Has lungs.” Never assume that someone has lung cancer because they smoked or that someone who smoked deserves lung cancer.

Thanks again,


Another of my INSPIRE friends, Darlene, was caretaker for and devoted sister to her brother Malcolm. Her moving responses to my questions begin here:

Where do I begin ?? How do I tell the story of a simple life for a simple person who was content with all the simple things in life and never asked for more?

Malcolm was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer in July of 2010. Upon hearing that he had this very aggressive form of lung cancer, Malcolm began to cry, only to be comforted by a nurse who told him to keep in mind that we are all individuals and that he might well respond to treatment.

It was exactly what Malcolm needed to hear. Darlene describes his sudden shift in attitude: “He said he was going to beat this disease and that’s the way he saw it…and never saw it any other way.

In fact, Malcolm managed to buoy the spirits of all those around him:  “I am sure that the thought of dying had to enter his mind from time to time..but for the most part, Malcolm was such a positive person. He always managed to make me smile at his confidence. He always managed to keep me positive…the one who was sick with the illness, a life threatening disease, was able to keep the one who wasn’t sick and all of us around him, positive.

Malcolm completed treatment in December of 2010 and entered what would turn out to be a very short lived remission. Two and a half months later Malcolm was found to have a single brain metastasis and began WBR, or whole brain radiation. Not long after this treatment was initiated, the cancer recurred in Malcolm’s lung.

Malcolm was told he must finish the WBR before having any further treatments for the recurrence in his lung…before he could complete the WBR the cancer in his lung spread, blocking the airways and causing his right lung to completely collapse. He was then told nothing further could be done for him and he should have hospice care.

Malcolm died on March 20th of 2011..the first day of spring and the day after my birthday. On a Sunday.” Darlene feels that Malcolm’s acceptance of the fact that he was dying made his passing easier for the living. “How can someone who is dying make it easier for those who love him?  Malcolm did just this…never once did I see him show fear. I don’t think I could have handled seeing my wonderful brother being afraid.”

“I hope that I can be just like him. Brave and content; accepting of whatever outcome…making it easier for my loved ones…as he did. A simple person, who lived a simple life and was content with the simple things. Malcolm was amazing. I learned so much from this simple person…in life and in dying.”



Next up is my friend Roni, who had smoked, but quit six years prior to her diagnosis. Interestingly, Roni has an ALK mutation, just as I do. The typical profile for someone with an ALK mutation is a young, never smoker with adenocarcinoma. Profiling may be a useful tool for prediction, (time and money saving) but it is dependent upon generalities. I believe it is best to operate under the assumption that there will be exceptions to every ‘rule’, and thankfully Roni was tested for an ALK mutation even though she did not fit the profile. Please welcome Roni:

“I guess I should have known! I shouldn’t have been so surprised. I was a smoker for over 30 years, we lived in a home where radon was present, I frequently suffered from bronchitis, I worked for years in an area that was enveloped in jet fuel fumes and my mom died from lung cancer. But, who actually believes it will happen to them?

It all started with kidney stones…oh, they were bad. I went to the emergency room and after the x-ray, the technician asked me if I ever had pneumonia. He saw a spot on my lung. After 4 days in the hospital trying to pass those blasted stones, my PCP sent me for a CT scan and then to a pulmonologist. When he explained the results of the scan to my husband and me, I fell apart. I couldn’t stop crying.

I should have stopped smoking when my girls were born, or maybe when my mom died or maybe when my dad died the following year or even when my first husband died three years later. I was still young then, I could have quit then, but I was hooked!!! Finally, 15 years later, I did it…I quit smoking!

Six years after that, my oncologist gave me my diagnosis – Stage IIIB Adenocarcinoma with 18 months to 2 years to live. Devasted, I headed home and tried to put everything in order. I took each of my girls on special separate mini vacations so we could have some final quality time together. I bought a cemetery plot and picked out my stone. I made a will. And then I braced for the worst. That was in 2006!

And, here I am, 6 1/2 years later….a little older, a little chubbier and
so very happy.

Why so happy? Well, when I was diagnosed, my youngest grandchild was 6
years old. I knew he would never remember me and how much I loved him and
my other 4 grandchildren. I couldn’t imagine not watching them grow and
develop into the unique individuals I knew they were going to be. I wanted
to be around to celebrate their birthdays and graduations and weddings and
their own children. Well, I might not get to do all of that, but I am
thankful for the many additional years that I have been blessed to live and
be a part of their lives. We have made many memories in the past 6 years.
Just thinking about it makes me smile.

So, how did I get here? Oh you know, the same old road: radiation, surgery
and chemo. Lots and lots of chemo. Years and years of chemo (I think you
get the picture). But then a great thing began to happen. Pharmacies
actually started experimenting with drugs to fight lung cancer! It was
amazing. Even though lung cancer kills more people every year than any
other type of cancer, other cancer treatments seemed to take priority. And,
I was really kind of okay with that. If my husband developed prostate
cancer or one of my girls was found to have breast cancer, I would want
there to be a cure for them. But the tide started to shift a little when
they found out people who did not smoke also got lung cancer. Imagine that!
They weren’t the cause of their own cancer! So, the competition started.
How lucky for some of us. Because I have a certain ALK gene in my tumors, I
have been fortunate enough to be able to take two pills a day to shrink my
tumors and to prolong and improve the quality of my life. I have the
opportunity to get up one more morning and see the sun and thank God for the
beautiful life he has given me. I get to spend one more day with my
wonderful husband, loving daughters and my precious grandchildren.

But, I know it won’t last. When this medicine stops working, maybe there
will be another to take it’s place. Maybe there won’t. Should I sit around
and worry? No. I don’t consider myself to be either positive or negative,
just realistic and very, very thankful. It could always be worse. This
journey does not have a good outcome, but when the end is near, I will not
hesitate to take every pain pill and every treatment necessary to ease my
suffering before I reach my final home.

We are all family in this battle and I pray that each and every one of us
will have the loving support of family and friends, knowledgable doctors and
kind nurses. Blessings to all of you.


And now some words from my friends: Lisa

In recognition of November as the designated month for lung cancer awareness, I asked members of my online support group INSPIRE if they would be willing to share their personal stories. First up is a post written by my friend Lisa, who was misdiagnosed with a number of garden variety ailments before learning that she had lung cancer. Sadly, a delayed diagnosis is all too common, and the suggestion that her symptoms may have been psychosomatic in origin mirrors my own experience prior to diagnosis.

Lisa also addresses the issue of stigma, from the perspective of someone who was an occasional, or social smoker. Her description of feeling less deserving of care is heartbreaking. Please welcome Lisa:

“I’m a 37 year old woman, married, no children (but two very spoiled cats!). I live in the UK but am Canadian. Was diagnosed November 2011 with Stage IV adenocarcinoma with extensive mets to the bones, brain and liver. I was an Assistant Professor in International Relations at a university in the UK and became alerted to the ‘problem’ initially in Fall/Winter 2010-11 through having shortness of breath/ wheezing/cough which was wrongly diagnosed as asthma. I blamed the cat, had the carpets cleaned and went on with my regular routine of biking to work, doing ashtanga yoga, hiking on weekends and working too hard.

Over the course of that Spring (2011), I also was referred to a physiotherapist for shoulder and arm pain. In June, I started experiencing what are called ‘visual migraines’ – where your vision fractures and shimmers and swirls for about half an hour – and was losing the ability to read text. I was also experiencing photo-phobia – where bright lights hurt your eyes. By September, I had become so sick that I had to go off work, having been diagnosed with ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ and having been put on anti-depressants. Still, despite my pleas, and a dramatic weight loss, none of my doctors (and I saw three different family practitioners) would consider my symptoms in conjunction with one another – insisting that they were all common, unrelated problems (migraines, asthma, depression, back pain).When in November, I completely misread my asthma prescription and took 10 times the recommended amount only to have it make no difference to my violent cough, the doctor finally sent me for a routine X-ray. I was called back within hours. Cancer. And so it begins….

There are three points that I would like to make:

1. That it is a sneaky, cruel, insidious disease. Looking back, it was clear that I was getting sicker and sicker and had been for about 14 months prior to my diagnosis. But at the time, it is so easy to just dismiss a cough, a wheeze, feeling a little tired and to continue with your regular routine. Because it happens so slowly, it is easy to miss the weight loss, the lack of appetite, or the excuses that you start to make for taking the elevator instead of the stairs.

2. I can’t prove it, and this is just my opinion, but I have no doubt in my own mind that my misdiagnosis was in large part due to the fact that I was a middle aged female and that my male doctors were preconceived towards a psychological rather than a physiological diagnosis. It is so easy to say that someone’s symptoms are ‘anxiety’ related if they are a little bit complicated, unclear or unusual. Don’t repeat my mistakes. You know when something is wrong. Find another doctor that you connect with and who takes your concerns seriously. Get referrals. Get tested. Refuse to be dismissed.

3. The elephant in the room: smoking. I didn’t do it a lot but I did do it: socially, at parties, doing research interviews if it made my interviewees feel more comfortable. I think that I thought that because I only did it a little, or because I was healthy in other areas of my life – that it wouldn’t matter. And although my doctors insist that the amount that I smoked was incidental to my diagnosis, I tend to disagree. Cancer acts very differently in different people and while some of us can get away with smoking a pack a day and live until we’re ninety, I think that for some of us, all it takes to contract LC is a couple of cigs a week.What is also notable – but hardly surprising – about the general discourse is how there is still an implicit emphasis on non-smokers being more deserving of a cure. (This could be my own insecurity, but every-time I come up negative for a new test that is more common in never smokers (EGFR, ALK), I feel that somehow I have failed at my cancer; that it’s because I am less deserving of a cure.) So, on top of all the other bullsh*t that cancer throws at you, LC has the added sweeteners of blame and guilt. This in turn, acts as a silencer for those of us, who, had we not smoked, might feel more entitled to have a voice in the debate. Instead of speaking up – screaming (or wheezing ☺) for a cure for this woefully underfunded disease – and taking the tobacco companies and other environmental polluters to task for their actions, we focus on our own guilt and quietly accept our ‘punishment’.

As a way of forcing myself beyond my guilt (and having been inspired by Linnea’s amazing blog!) I have started chronicling my own experiences here:

I would be so honoured if you would join the conversation. xxx”