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.