In May of 2013 I was just finishing up my 18th year teaching vocal music in a public school. I noticed I would become out of breath very easily. I saw my general practitioner and received the diagnosis of pneumonia. I was given an inhaler and some antibiotics and was told to come back if I didn’t feel better. The next day I felt worse so I saw a pulmonologist who took a chest X-ray. I was immediately sent to the hospital for a pericardiocentesis and had 1.5 liters of fluid drained from around my heart.
I felt so much better and was ready to finish up my teaching year. About a week later I received a phone call saying they found malignant cells in the fluid they had drained. I went back in for a CT scan and discovered 6 blood clots on my lungs. After spending a week in the hospital I was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer at the age of 40. I, being healthy and a non smoker, was shocked to get this diagnosis. I started chemotherapy and found out four months later that I had the ALK mutation. I felt like I had won the lottery.
Because of recent research I had more than just chemotherapy to choose from. That was three and a half years ago, I have had 15 rounds of chemotherapy, 9 months on an ALK inhibitor and I just started my 23rd month on a clinical trial and I am stable! I have been able to go back teaching part time, but more importantly, I have been present for my family.
It is so important to spread the fact that anyone can get lung cancer – all you need are lungs. Initially what drew me to A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation was the fact that it is local! When I learned more about the organization I was impressed with their commitment to awareness and research, as well as patient support. As a lung cancer patient, I am forced to answer the question “did you smoke?” often. It used to anger me, now I choose to educate. I look forward to participating in A Breath of Hope’s events this year.