by Tracy Anderson
When people hear that I am a lung cancer survivor (5 years cancer free come Dec. 17, 2014) and the stage it was discovered, they look at me as if I am a big foot… you hear about them but never really see them in person.
I guess it makes sense since the 5 year survival rate stands somewhere between 15-16%, depending on which information you read. I usually end up discussing the facts about lung cancer and try to rid us of the ugly stigma our disease carries. Raising awareness wherever I go. The thing is, whenever I discuss my survivorship, I am always asked, “I thought no one survives lung cancer… how did you do it?” I usually joke about it by saying it was the Jewish Penicillin (Homemade chicken soup from scratch) I ate. It cures everything from the common cold to cancer. I think it may even regrow small severed limbs, but I haven’t actually tested that theory yet. But my mom and I both couldn’t eat anything but that soup during our treatments and we are both still here. Oh, did I fail to mention that my mom is also a stage 3B Non-small cell lung cancer survivor? 12 years for her. Unfortunately her father was also diagnosed but only held on for about 18 months back in 1975.
Anyway…How did I make it? Of course the care I received from my doctors was vital to the success of my treatment. The techs who administered the radiation and the nurses who cared for me day and night in the hospital were like angels. The poisonous Cisplatin, and Etoposide running through my veins was a necessary part of my survival, but just as crucial, I am convinced, was my attitude toward the whole situation. It was my mindset; my personality that got me through the toughest of times. What was so great about my outlook and attitude that made me stronger than the cancer that tried to consume me? Well, part of it may be part of my DNA, and part of it may be my upbringing. You see, when I was told of my lung cancer, I didn’t panic, cry, or ask why me. . I just shook my head and with a half laugh, looked at the doctor and said, “of course I do.” I never really thought I wouldn’t make it. I remember thinking, “Oh, great… I am going to be sick as hell and I am going to lose my hair. OMG… MY HAIR!!! What an inconvenience this is going to be!” When we discussed the treatment options and the doctor answered my father’s question about my chances, I said, “I don’t care what # you throw out there, screw you, watch this.” My doc smiled and said, “We need to get you into treatment ASAP while you still have this attitude!” I mean, if my mom beat it, I was going to as well… I couldn’t fail at something she succeeded at… NO WAY!
Now about this attitude… I am a competitor. I was a hard core athlete…still am mentally. I would always play to win… If you don’t, you may as well stay home. I played softball at a very competitive level and traveled across the country doing so. I learned at a young age to never give up no matter how many runs you may be trailing. We came from behind many times to win the game against all odds. The game isn’t over til the last out of the last inning is made. I remember playing tournaments… 6 games in one day playing every inning in 98 degree weather, as the catcher! I was exhausted, both physically and mentally but I knew how important this tournament was and where it would bring my team. I fought on and we made it to the National tournament!
As in any sport, activity, or just living life, there is a risk of injury, illness, or fatigue. I was trained to, “Make the play, cry later”. This is something that my dad instilled in me on the softball field when a ball took a bad hop right into my face when I was just starting out. I was to make the play first, and then cry… if I didn’t the runners would continue to run and score on us and we would lose. Plenty of time to cry after the play has been made. Yeah, it sounds rough, but it made me stronger and a damn good softball player.
As I got older and met new obstacles or challenges, I found that saying to be beneficial. It gave me the push or the drive to continue on and get the job done no matter what the situation. It worked when I was working out, writing a term paper at 3am on no sleep, going to work with the flu, moving on after a break up, and what I consider “THE BIG GAME”. My personal Superbowl or World Series. That’s right, my fight for my life against Lung Cancer. I believe I was being trained to fight this horrible disease and to help others with their battles too by playing softball and training to be the best I could be.
It is important to have a strong body when preparing for a battle. You will do well with a young, strong, healthy body, but if your mind is weak, you will only last so long. You need a strong mind as well… maybe even more importantly. Good athletes train their physical body, but the best athletes, who stand the test of time, also train their minds, hearts, and souls.
I remember one night in particular where I had had enough. I was so weak, so tired, so… done. I really think that if I could’ve made it to a tall building with an open window or roof access, I would have considered jumping. But then I heard my dad’s words screaming at me in my head. “MAKE THE PLAY, CRY LATER!” I couldn’t let him down… my “team” AKA: family. I had to win this game… if I didn’t, not only would the season be over, but I would be permanently retiring. So I took a deep breath, and “brushed myself off” and continued on. On my bad days, I would also hear my mom… “tomorrow will be better.” When it wasn’t, she would tell me again that tomorrow will be better. Eventually she was right. I just had to ignore the pain of today to look for the relief that “tomorrow” would bring. I am so happy my tomorrow came.
I really believe that my mental game is a huge part of the reason I am still “playing” this game called life along with the support of those who love me. Being that my mom had been there before me, I knew I could trust her when she said all will be fine. She did it… why couldn’t I? So, as my mom and I say, “Dying just wasn’t an option.” Once you believe it, you can achieve it… BREATHE DEEP, BELIEVE, AND LIVE!!!