I have never smoked and I have lung cancer
As Nicole told Audrey Spector
It started with a cough and shortness of breath.
That was in May 2020 and my biggest fear was that I had Covid. So when the Covid test came back negative, I was overwhelmed with relief.
But my upper respiratory symptoms persisted.
I spent a lot of time outdoors with my husband and children as there was so little we could do safely during the lockdown. Maybe I just had really bad allergies? My doctor and I went several ways to treat this, including prednisone, which made me feel completely insane.
When allergy treatments failed, I was treated walking pneumonia and dosed with antibiotics.
But that approach didn’t work either. I was still coughing and having difficulty breathing.
I explained my symptoms to my brother, an anesthetist. I had held back from discussing my condition with anyone other than my husband because I didn’t want to worry unnecessarily. But that’s when I started to worry.
“Did you answer?” asked my brother.
That made me pause. I actually lost some weight. But I also trained a lot and did more hikes than usual.
“Did anyone mention a tumor?” he asked.
I was speechless. A tumor? What? Where? As?
I had a million questions. A series of appointments with a pulmonologist and hematologist / oncologist, along with a visit to the emergency room and a couple of nights in the oncology department, resulted in a malicious answer: I had stage 4 Lung cancer with Brain metastases.
My world swayed and turned. Just a few weeks earlier, I was afraid of having a mild Covid case. Now I was facing the most aggressive type of lung cancer. Life as I knew it had just made the craziest leap.
As much as I was shocked, I was also terribly confused. How on earth did I get lung cancer? I was 47 years old and had never smoked or lived with a smoker. To the best of my knowledge, lung cancer did not occur in our family.
I also took great care of myself. It was all totally unthinkable.
I am of Asian American descent and learned from my oncologist that Asian lung cancer patients are more likely to be non-smokers and that women of Asian descent who have never smoked make up more than half of all Asian American women diagnosed with lung cancer.
I learned from my doctor that a genetic mutation could be the driving factor behind my lung cancer. If that were the case, I could be a candidate for a new drug that can be used to treat certain types of lung cancer with the specific mutation.
I was hoping I had this genetic mutation so that I could be treated with this drug, but it turned out that no, I didn’t have the genetic mutation. I was so disappointed.
So now I had moved from hoping not to have Covid to hoping not to have cancer and learned that I had cancer in my lungs and then in my brain too. What was next Would I be excluded as a candidate for lung surgery? I would undergo chemotherapy and Immunotherapy and be sick for months only to find out that the treatments weren’t entirely successful?
Puppy. Pretty much that happened. Although chemotherapy reduced the cancerous lesions in my brain, it was clear that the tumors in my lungs, even though they had shrunk a little, were going nowhere. They remained viciously pressed against my heart.
I felt like my future was being pulled away from me. I was plagued by morbid ideas – I thought I would only live a few more months or less.
I was devastated that chemo didn’t eradicate cancer. It was my husband too, who was so supportive and a pillar of strength throughout this ordeal.
Our children, too, had been tremendously brave. As much as we tried to protect her from all the evil, my cancer treatments were harsh on her. The very thought of them worrying about me brings me to tears. I never wanted to take the light out of her eyes.
Although I was frail and exhausted from chemotherapy, I refused to give up. I stormed my doctors with questions about the next steps. I would have to defeat this cancer.
My doctors were just as passionate as I was, but they were more knowledgeable and wanted to explore other options. Instead of completely destroying cancer – which seemed less possible and more traumatic to my body and my life – they asked, “Why don’t you focus on surviving with cancer?”
The idea of going on with my life with cancer was completely alien to me, and yet, when my doctor informed me, a burden fell off my chest.
I wondered, Is It Possible To Live A Good Life With Cancer?
My doctors stated that it is entirely possible. It’s just about dealing with the cancer instead of trying to blot out all evidence of it. That meant no more chemo and ultimately no more feeling like I was going to lose a final fight.
For the first time since the start of this nightmare, I felt a sense of freedom that returned to me. I wanted to get my life back. And no, it wouldn’t look like my life before cancer. There would still be tumors in me. But by working closely with my oncologist and continuing immunotherapy and antiangiogenic therapy to treat cancer for the foreseeable future, it could be kept in check.
I am now taking on my role as a survivor with cancer. I take part LUNGevity self-help groups and made wonderful friends with fellow survivors. We are actually quite a few! And above all, I take a lot more time for myself and my family than I used to do and cherish every day – every moment – as a precious gift.
I’ve always been grateful to my family, but I’ve never recognized my gratitude as much as I do now. I now breathe everything in even more deeply. My heart sings And the light has not only returned to my children’s eyes, it has returned to mine too.
Thank You For Reading!