Many of us have had life changing moments; some good, some bad. I had mine on March 5, 2014. That was the day that I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer and given 2 years to live. It came out of the blue. It was an incidental finding and I had absolutely no risk factors or symptoms leading up to my diagnosis. I was running marathons, biking, skiing and hiking. You name it, I was doing it and I was trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I don’t drink and have never smoked. Well, I found out on March 5, 2014 that you don’t need to have any risk factors, like smoking, to get lung cancer.
When I was diagnosed, I was embarrassed to tell people right away because I knew that everyone would think that I was a smoker. I didn’t want people to think that I “deserved” my lung cancer. No other cancer survivor has to defend their diagnosis by saying they didn’t smoke or didn’t eat too much, etc. In fact, the first thing strangers would ask me is, “How much did you smoke?” Even people I knew would say, “I didn’t know you smoked.” I never smoked, but regardless, even if I did, no one deserves to die from lung cancer. Now, I am not embarrassed to tell people I have lung cancer and have become an advocate for lung cancer. I try to inform people of the facts, but the stigma attached to lung cancer is real and it affects how people think of you and even affects how much research is done for lung cancer.
Did you know that lung cancer is the number one cancer killer among men and women and kills more people than prostate, breast and colon cancers combined? Although, lung cancer is the leading cause of death, only 6 percent of federal research dollars are spent on lung cancer research. I have a very rare form of cancer with an ALK mutation. Because of research, I have been on targeted therapy for over 7 years. I am on my third generation of ALK inhibitors, but I have been able to live a high quality life and experience things I never thought I’d be around for. It turns out that you only need lungs to get lung cancer. If I can get lung cancer, so can you. You’re not guaranteed tomorrow, but you can make the best of the time you have every day. Life is a gift, that’s why they call it the present.