I am a woman, a lung cancer survivor, a mother and a physician. My 17-year-old daughter submitted a paper for her college English class that brought her professor to tears. The essay describes the emotions and the role reversal she felt she had to take from the daughter to the caretaker/parent. I would very much like to share her story.
We never know when our life could end or when everything could just come crashing down and our whole existence is over. We always think we have time. We think we have 80 years on this earth but that is not always the case. You hear people who go through tragedies say enjoy all the moments, big and little, love your loved ones while you still can, and life is short so live it to the fullest. I never quite comprehended what they were saying until the summer of last year. We are constantly taking things for granted in our lives that we don't even notice when we should be appreciative until the unthinkable happens and we realize what we have or could have lost.
Mothers give us the gift of life. Without a mother none of us would be here today and most of the time we forget just how fortunate we are for them. Whether someone is close with their mom or not, they have her to thank for their existence. I am incredibly close with my mom. She has always been my role model -- the woman that one day I hope to become. She has blessed me with everything I could have dreamed of and still does. She is my best friend, the person I can rely on to keep my secrets, give me guidance, brighten my day, and be there at my breaking points. As children, we always think parents are supposed to take care of us and we do not understand that sometimes we need to help and take care of our parents when they are in need. They might not have a spouse, or parent or friend to do so, only us. We do not understand just how much a parent does for us and we won't understand until we become a parent.
There are two types of people in this world, people who pick good news first and people who pick bad news first. I always pick bad news first and save the good for last. When my mom told my siblings and me that she was diagnosed with lung cancer, it was a horrifying moment. I was in pure shock and I didn't know how my life was going to be for the next few months. Could I potentially lose my mom? She was going to have surgery to hopefully remove the cancer and make sure that it had not spread elsewhere. There was no good news, only hope. We sat around the dinner table in silence for a while in shock. My mom is a doctor; she knows how to stay away from leading causes of lung cancer, like smoking and protecting your body when using radiation and chemicals. She has a healthy diet and she runs marathons. How could someone who is in great shape and has so much knowledge of cancer prevention be the person who is living with cancer? The more I thought of the what ifs, the less I wanted to deal with it and accept the situation. Instead, I put my feelings in a box and shoved the box deep down inside, and I was not going to open the box until the time was necessary. Last summer, I basically lived at the hospital taking my mother to doctor appointments day in and day out. Someone needed to be there to hold her hand through it all and put on a fake smile and say everything is going to be okay even when I had no idea what the outcome was going to be. I know she would have done the same for me, so I, the child, needed to be there to help my parent.
The day of her surgery was intense. I drove her to the hospital before the sun rose and we waited for the long process to begin. I did not get to see much of her because of all the final testing the doctors were doing before she went into surgery but I was trying to come up with other things to talk about to get her mind off of what was going on. That was the hardest part.
The doctors took her back for surgery in the late morning and I was left in the waiting room area along with many others waiting and hoping that their loved ones are safe and still alive in surgery. The hours went by and more friends and family came to sit with me as we waited to hear any new updates about my mom. As the day turned into night, we were still sitting in the waiting room. A nurse came out and told us the surgery was over, she was in recovery. We walked to a new floor and a new waiting area. By the time she got out of recovery, it seemed like we had been waiting several days but it was only one. The whole day I was worried and scared and all I wanted to do was see my mom and be wrapped in her arms knowing I was safe and okay but I remembered that she was more scared than me, and I had to be the one comforting her. When I finally saw my mom that is exactly what I did.
Thankfully, the doctors caught her cancer at an early stage and were able to remove all of it, and the cancer had not spread. It was a crazy summer full of crazy emotions. Thinking that I could possibly lose my mom and live in a world where she was no longer going to be in, to knowing that I have been blessed with more time with my mom changed my perspective on life. I finally understood everything that I have is because of her. Without her, I would be nothing. I owe everything to her, and for her I am forever thankful.
Growing up I was never very athletic and got out of breath easily. As a cheerleader, I always struggled. Once in high school while playing soccer the coaches thought I was hyperventilating, and handed me a paper bag to breathe into to recover. As I attended college I put on the “college 15+” weight. It continued to escalate and in 2008 I was miserable. I couldn't walk across the parking lot without being winded. I couldn't believe how out of control my weight had become. It was time to fix it.
So, I began working out, huffing and puffing the whole time. I attributed my struggles to breathe to being so overweight. At the time, my personal trainer suggested I align myself with people that could help me reach my goals. Quickly I became friends with some extremely fit girls at the gym I was attending and the owner assigned one of the fittest girls there to me for a weight loss challenge. Before long I had a whole army behind me and these girls became my best friends. They saved me and tried to kill me at the same time. They were all runners and I had never run in my life.
We decided to take a road trip for a race. My friend Jennifer said, "TLove, I will run the 5K with you while the others run the half marathon." I thought, "OK…I work out…I can surely run 3.1 miles."
Two minutes into the race I could not run anymore. I couldn't breathe, I was miserable, and I'm sure a few choice words came out of my mouth. We passed a Wendy's on the route and I even suggested to stop for a Frosty. Jennifer never left my side the whole race and never let me stop for the Frosty. When I left South Carolina that weekend I knew if I was going to be able to hang with my friends I had to hire someone to help me run. I set up a coaching session with Paul McRae of PRS. As we started out on our one mile jaunt, we walked to one street light and ran to the next. About a half mile into it, he asked if asthma ran in my family. He suggested I go see a doctor to be tested.
The whole time I thought I was just seriously out of shape. Without his help, I'm not sure if I would have ever made my journey to becoming more fit and discovering my lung disease. So, you see, my journey with my lungs has been a long one. No one really figured out what was going on until four years ago. On Paul's advice, I made that appointment with an amazing pulmonologist. She diagnosed me with exercise-induced bronchial spasms and later allergy-induced as well. We have changed my medications several times to make different activities easier. She listens, she understands and she chooses mild medications that work for me.
I now CrossFit, swim, run, indoor cycle and do it all at my maximum capacity. I'm able to live my life like a normal person. I'm able to share my story with those struggling and I'm able to put that into raising awareness and funds for the American Lung Association. Upon joining my local LUNG FORCE Women's Cabinet, I posed a question on my social media page of who has been affected by lung disease.
Here is what I found within a few hours:
- The stepmom of a dear friend has stage 4 Lung cancer. We did the LUNG FORCE Run in Jacksonville in honor of Mimi, and the stair climb in the hopes she is given more time on this earth.
- A woman I attended high school with lost her mother last year to lung cancer, and another high school friend's dad was just diagnosed and currently starting treatment.
- A friend on my Fight For Air Climb team found out a month before the climb her uncle has stage 2 lung cancer. Our team started the climb at 9 a.m. and at 9:15 her uncle went in for more testing. He has now started chemo and radiation and his prognosis is good.
- As one of my fundraisers we sold handmade bracelets made by another lifelong friend of mine. Her husband and son battle asthma and her mom had 40 percent of her lung removed and is a lung cancer survivor.
As these posts came in I was in awe of the number of people I knew personally that have been affected by lung disease. I know I am exactly where I was meant to be. I'm so passionate about this organization with such personal meaning to me. Currently I hope I am only touching the surface with the people I can reach and with what I can give back; I'm so honored to have found the American Lung Association.
December 3, 2015; the day my life forever changed. My mother was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer in December of 2014. She was being treated by Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida for other health concerns when we were informed of a suspicious nodule on her left lung.
My mother was and still is my best friend. Throughout the year of 2014 to 2015, my mother underwent extensive chemotherapy treatments which was then followed by radiation. She fought as hard as she possibly could but, unfortunately, she lost her battle to lung cancer on December 3, 2015. My Mom was only 59 years old when she passed. She had so much life to still live and I needed her as a young woman in my mid-30s.
I know her body was exhausted from the horrific treatments and at the end of her radiation it had spread to the right lung and additional lymph nodes. There are no simple words to truly describe why LUNG FORCE is so important to me. I first got involved a few months after her death. I felt as if I needed to honor her legacy, and that is exactly what I did. I became actively involved, was on the Lung Association Cabinet and was a LUNG FORCE Hero for my commitment to this cause and my love for my mother. I have spoken several times on why LUNG FORCE is important and I have simply stated, "My mother was with me as I took my first breaths in the world and I was holding her as she took her last three breaths departing the world."
She is truly the hero and in that moment, life became a complete circle! I can only hope to utilize my personal grief of my mother's battle with lung cancer to educate to others about any and all lung diseases and, most importantly, honor my mother's legacy while being her voice and breaths! I love you to the moon and back, Momma.
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 Run/Walk Kick-off event, Corporate Recruitment event and/or on Run/Walk day.
If you're interested in becoming a LUNG FORCE Hero, please contact Karen Hughes 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!