2013 was the best year of my life. I was newly married to the girl of my dreams. We had a new house. I adopted her son and had major career advances (winning multi-million dollar grants for our community). But everything changed in January of 2014. I had gone to the doctor with some heartburn and occasional shortness of breath and a week later I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer.
It was a shock to me and everyone who knew me. You can be in perfect health with almost no symptoms and still be diagnosed with lung cancer.
My first oncologist gave me little hope, approximately 9-12 months to live. They started Carbo-Platinum & Taxol on 1-24-13. The second oncologist on shift that weekend had a different take. He wanted to send my tissue to be tested for genetic mutations. Four weeks later I tested ALK Positive.
I began Xalkori, a targeted inhibitor drug for people with the ALK mutation on February 18, 2014 and my most recent scan on May 1, 2014 shows that the cancer has gone into remission (from bones, lymph nodes, & lungs). I remember thinking I looked like a lit-up Christmas tree on those first scans. Now I feel like I’m a walking miracle.
It hasn’t been easy. I have fears of recurrence. I have a hard time keeping up with the day. It takes longer for me to do things. I am still doing pulmonary rehabilitation and therapy 3 days a week and I will have brain scans every 6 months.
Having a LifeLine Support Mentor from LUNGevity has really helped me. Also, being able to attend the National HOPE Summit in Washington DC allowed me to connect with other people like myself and talk to experts about my disease.
Last month I went onto complete disability retirement at the age of 36. My new career is taking care of myself and the family, but also I want to be an advocate for lung cancer research and promoting clean air legislation.
I believe that environmental air pollution triggered my disease. Raising awareness about the fact that anyone with lungs can get lung cancer is very important to me.
Lung cancer is the least funded cancer. More people die from lung cancer than the next 5 major cancers combined. For 1 dollar of lung cancer research there’s $24 for Breast Cancer. Mothers and daughters get lung cancer, AND fathers, husbands, and sons do too.
I know all our time on this earth is limited, but I believe there is a purpose here for my story to be told. I want to start a local support group. I want to get the EPA and Congress to mandate new air pollution standards. I want to help find a cure!