When I was 19 years old I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocetic Leukemia. I was having a hard time walking to classes and was constantly tired. I met my family for lunch and then ended up taking me to the emergency room. A few days later I started chemotherapy, and thirty days later I was in remission.
One month later, I relapsed and needed a stem cell transplant. Luckily my younger brother Carlo was a perfect match. Bad news was I only had a 20% chance of survival. I thought I was going to die at only 19. I was overwhelmed by fear, and I wondered what the point of fighting was. My doctor reassured me that I could be in that 20%. I had chemo and full body radiation before the transplant. Going into surgery I wondered if I would ever wake up. What seemed to me to be a moment later, I opened my eyes and found myself in a hospital room. A month had passed without me having any memory of it. I had lost one hundred pounds and could barely walk or eat, but I beat the odds and was cancer free.
A few years later after having difficulty breathing I was diagnosed with Bronchiolitis Obliterans. The new stem cells were attacking my lungs. I managed my breathing for over a decade, but at 33 I was the guy carrying an oxygen tank everywhere I went. My lungs were failing and without new ones, I would die. I was referred for a lung transplant. It took over a year for me to be evaluated and listed. Eleven days after I was listed, I got a call “we have lungs for you.” As they put me under for surgery, I wondered again whether or not I would wake up. But I awoke with a tube down my throat unable to speak and wife was by my side holding my hand.
I was in pain after the procedure, but I could breathe with my new lungs without supplemental oxygen. When my wife and I got married in September 2015, I could barely dance with her because I was so short of breathe. My life was so limited before luckily, I married a person who always stuck by me. I also have wonderful family that supported me so that now I can breathe.
My story starts like many others who have been diagnosed with lung cancer…it was all a fluke (and miracle) that it was ever discovered!
In 2012, I went into the doctors to check out what I thought was a routine issue, urinary tract infection, and ended up with a diagnosis of lung cancer. The situation progressed quickly from a stop in the emergency room with UTI symptoms to a chest x-ray because they wanted to ensure my heart was fine to a mass found on my lower left lung to low-dose CT scan to “the call.”
I was fortunate to have aggressive and diligent doctors who knew the proper screening procedures to follow and the best treatment options for me. I’m most thankful for the support and love I received from my family and good friends during diagnosis and treatment.
The hardest part of the disease is knowing that you have limitations with lower lung capacity and the acceptance that you will never be the same. I wish people weren’t so judgmental of lung cancer cancer is cancer and NO ONE deserves cancer. But I’m a fighter and I beat the odds. Just because I have lung cancer doesn’t mean my life is over. I’m thankful that LUNG FORCE gives me a way to fight back and provide hope for others like me.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease COPD the diagnosis I received as a 32 year old newlywed and young mother. That was 30 years ago. My doctor shared what this diagnosis meant for me but he did not warn me of all the things that would have to change because of the illness. No more signature Tea Rose perfume because it triggered my coughing attacks, no more house cleaning because of dust and chemicals, no more watching my son blow out birthday candles because of the smoke, no more working because the office was filled with tobacco smoke, no more children because my body wouldn't be able to support a pregnancy with my limited lung functioning, no more living in Alaska because of the state's extreme temperatures. My life changed forever.
Just imagine everyday feeling like you can never get enough energy or enough breath to fuel your body, almost like you are underwater gasping for air. This is a reality living with COPD. I am now 62 and have had COPD about half my lifetime. I've made adjustments to keep myself as healthy as possible for my husband, Doug, and son, Marcus. Although there are many things that I can't do that I love, I never lost sight of what blessings I do have in my life. I've achieved one of my lifetime goals, despite my limitations, and studied for the last several years at the Southern California A/G School of Ministry and recently became a licensed reverend.
Since my diagnosis, I've seen many improvements in the way of education and awareness of lung disease in women. Early on my doctors didn't really know what to call my disease, let alone how to properly treat it. I thank the American Lung Association for continually bringing lung disease to the forefront, and for providing training to pulmonary experts and clinicians about best practices, new treatment options emerging products, proper medication delivery techniques - all of which help keep me out of the hospital (as my husband teases "my timeshare") longer and my visits shorter.
I, like many lung cancer survivors, would be remiss without giving credit to the sharp, conscientious Radiologist who caught sight of my tiny tumor. I had gone in for a series of back x-rays which my orthopedist ordered to get an idea of what was causing some spinal pain which had progressively increased. I knew that years of playing tennis, running and being an avid “gym rat” had taken its toll. When my doctor later called me in, he said the new pain was due to my hip joint being shot so I needed a hip replacement BUT… there was something else. When he told me he had “good” & “bad” news, I never expected the diagnosis of lung cancer. LUNG CANCER - WHAAAT?! I was a professional singer (sang for 4 Presidential Inaugurals), I was a speed swimmer (former Olympian), I never smoked, always took care of my nutrition, grew up in a healthy family and healthy environment. There was no cancer in my family - none. I was a poster child for healthy living, how could I have lung cancer?
There was no question I was lucky and the malignancy was small. I asked “How fast can you get me in?” After all, I wanted that piece of poison out of my body ASAP! The rest is sheer good fortune, blessing and God. Actually thanks to my strong faith - I had zero concerns. I knew this cancer was a mistake of nature, a malignancy caused by foolish fear & years of stress which I had allowed into my life and that both the stress and now the tumor were gone, never to return. It’s 5 years later and I can honestly say that leading a peaceful and engaged life, keeping a happy & optimistic mind and maintaining a healthy body along with the miraculous benevolence of God, I am here to tell my story. Yes, I was afraid after my surgery that I wouldn’t be able to get the breath control I needed to return to professional singing…but I did and this past January sang for the 2nd Inaugural of President Obama. I’ve also not only returned to swimming but have developed several Swim Therapy Programs to help folks with Pain Management, Obesity concerns and those in Stroke Recovery.
My life after lung cancer is quite a win, even more fulfilling than before and the best part - it all started with that attentive Radiologist who probably could never have imagined what a huge part he would be playing in not only this one woman being able to stay alive but also in allowing her the chance of being able to live a new kind of life - helping others. I’d say that’s quite a multiple WIN, wouldn’t you?
Everyone is impacted by the need for healthy air. As you think about the number of steps you will be walking, think about these numbers, because they represent who you are walking for:
LUNG FORCE Heroes are patients, caregivers, family, friends and co-workers of those who are impacted by lung cancer —or other lung diseases. Our Heroes share their powerful journeys - stories which help educate the public about what it’s like to have lung cancer or lung disease. Heroes may also be asked to speak at a LUNG FORCE Walk Kick-off event, Corporate Recruitment event and/or on Walk day.
If you're interested in becoming a LUNG FORCE Hero, please contact Amanda Gutzwiller for more information. And we invite you to Share Your Voice on our website and read about other people’s experiences too. Everyone’s story is unique, and we appreciate you getting involved and becoming a LUNG FORCE Hero!