Michelle Gydesen’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1998. A bout of Bell’s Palsy caused his face to droop, so Michelle was able to talk him into seeing a doctor. Since he was a smoker, the doctor did a chest x-ray. The X-ray showed cancer and soon after, her father had his bottom right lobe removed. Michelle remembers her dad being in a lot of pain.
“Before my dad’s diagnosis, I thought all cancers were like breast cancer with lots of treatment options and relatively good outcomes. People would be supportive. But what I learned about lung cancer was grim and the smoking stigma is just horrible,” she said. Michelle lost her father in 2005.
One year after her father’s diagnosis, Michelle developed pneumonia. She was prescribed antibiotics, but received little relief. When her lungs didn’t clear completely, Michelle went to a pulmonologist. After a tissue sample was taken, Michelle was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma in situ. She remembers hearing the diagnosis and saying, “What? I have lung cancer?”
It was a difficult time for this young family. Michelle’s little girl was just learning how to talk, but Michelle was preoccupied with lung surgery and the difficult recovery that followed. A thoracotomy was performed to remove a portion of Michelle’s lower lung. Michelle knew what was coming because she was there with her father for the same surgery, but this didn’t make it any easier. Her scar hurts to this day.
Following her surgery, Michelle and her husband received four differing opinions about next steps from oncologists. One doctor, with experience treating lung cancer in younger women, told them they were lucky it was discovered early and felt no further treatment was needed. Michelle was told that she had no evidence of disease. It was time to move on with her life.
Michelle and her husband welcomed their second child, a baby boy, in 2002. Everything was fine until Michelle developed a cold and cough in 2013. Michelle remembers not being overly concerned, but her husband encouraged her to see a doctor and get a scan. She was shocked when the doctor called and said that the cancer was back.
Being re-diagnosed all these years later made all the difference for Michelle. She said, “This time I had VATS surgery (video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery) which is minimally invasive. What a difference! My recovery was quicker and there was a lot less pain. It was amazing.” Because cancer was also found in a lymph node, Michelle went through three rounds of chemotherapy. She then developed a blood infection from her port. “It’s really unbelievable. If it’s a weird reaction, evidently it happens to me.” After recovering, she was able to finish her fourth round of chemo.
Today, Michelle has a scan every six months and has no evidence of disease. She said, “People need to know that lung cancer is affecting so many women. You’d think by now there would be many advances for treatment of an aggressive disease that kills more people than any other cancer. I believe the stigma gets in the way of progress,” she said.
Michelle is grateful to have found A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation and says she will always be an advocate for change. “We need to put our voices together. I think then, we can make things change.”