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Photo of Suzanne W.

My name is Suzanne and I am a lung cancer survivor. I am sharing my story in the hope that if you or a loved one has been recently diagnosed with lung cancer, it will take you beyond the statistics and help you through the difficult days ahead.

Out for dinner one evening, I swallowed a bone that lodged in my throat. I was in great shape and had no history of smoking, so I was not particularly concerned when the emergency room doctor told me he had discovered a spot in my lung during one of the scans taken at the hospital that night. The medical consensus was that I had probably aspirated something during the incident. I was advised to follow up with my regular doctors just to be sure. My internist immediately ordered a battery of tests. Even though everything else was ruled out, he was as shocked as I when the CT scan showed evidence of a metastatic disease.

Life turned surreal as the medical tests began to determine what kind of cancer I had. If the suspicious density was not lung cancer, it meant that whatever I had was already spreading. Imagine hoping that the disease was only lung cancer! I was frightened and sad.

painting by Suzanne

The days passed in slow motion as I waited to find out whether I was a candidate for surgery and then for the date of the surgery to arrive. When the details of the surgery were explained to me, they literally took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. Although there was no evidence of cancer outside the lung, the doctors recommended chemotherapy following the surgery. Again, I was absolutely terrified but I felt I had no choice. Three long months of chemo passed; it was pretty terrible, but not nearly as bad as I had imagined.

The diagnosis and treatments wreaked havoc on my world. Perhaps because I practiced law in New York City for almost 30 years, I was accustomed to being strong, self-reliant, in control and, of course, a little pushy. Suddenly, I was not in control; instead of giving help and support, I was accepting it. I had the incredible good fortune to have been able to retire at the age 50 and return to school to pursue a life-long passion for painting. Without much warning, I was too tired and weak to lift a paint brush; instead of running miles and playing with my grandchildren, I was in bed too exhausted to even read or watch TV. I went out to dinner one night, a healthy, vigorous woman with a rich life and full schedule. The next thing I knew, I had changed into a cancer patient, a frail, fatigued and, once chemo began, somewhat bald, old lady.

During this period, life revolved around cancer. Try as I might, I could not resist the lure of the research and statistics available on the internet. It did not help that my family and friends were doing their own research too, calling with news of the latest favorable study, carefully avoiding any talk of poor outcomes and always, always talking about my health.

painting by Suzanne

Although I truly appreciated the calls and help from my family and friends, I did not want to talk about the state of my health or the side-effects of the latest treatment–I just wanted to go on living as I had been. My husband set himself up as a buffer, responding to phone calls and using an email chain to keep friends and family up to date each step of the way.

No matter what your state of health, the diagnosis of cancer is overwhelming for the patient and for everyone close. Anxiety, sadness and depression are common for most cancer patients, and I was no exception. So I looked for a support group and that is how I found CancerCare. My support group has been a wonderful place to get practical information about living with cancer and to share the common worries and feelings of loss. I am also still meeting with a CancerCare counselor.

I suppose it is natural to take stock of the past when the future is so seriously threatened. Strange as is may sound, I feel like one very lucky woman: the cancer was discovered by accident before it had spread; I was blessed with a network of family and friends to care for me; I had access to skilled and compassionate medical help. I know that there is a possibility of a recurrence, but I also know that there are many treatment options and that life is uncertain and fragile for all of us.

painting by Suzanne

In our society, it is easy go through the life rushing to get things done. Cancer is a reminder to live each day fully; to seize the opportunity to express love and appreciation to those we care about, to take the time to stop and notice little things that can make life so enjoyable, to help others and to remember to be thankful for whatever good fortune we have.

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