As a never smoker, I didn’t think it was possible to get lung cancer. I certainly didn’t think the dry cough that didn’t go away, and eventually worsened, was a sign of lung cancer.
I am a loved wife, mother of four beautiful daughters and a Japanese language high school teacher. I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer the week of Mother’s Day in 2018. When I heard the four words that would change my life forever, I felt shocked, powerless, angry and in denial, but also hopeful. After some much-needed psychological care I have adapted to my diagnosis.
As you can imagine, everyone reacted differently, both friends and family. My husband was devastated – suddenly his plans of growing old with me had evaporated. Each of my daughters responded differently as well; my oldest who is in remission from cancer, could understand and empathise. Brittany started raising money for research into lung cancer by running in the Blackmores Half Marathon, whilst my third daughter pretended everything was normal – even though it was far from that. My youngest daughter withdrew initially, she was too scared to ask me questions as she was worried about the answers.
Despite the completely overwhelming nature of a diagnosis like this, if one had to pick a time to be diagnosed with lung cancer, it would be now. Lung cancer is no longer considered untreatable. There are viable treatment options which allow you to have a good quality of life, providing real hope of treating it like any other chronic disease.
Below are my tips to help you and your family navigate your lung cancer journey:
Know the type of lung cancer you have
Find out what type and stage, and if you have any mutations or biomarkers. I am on targeted treatment which is an awesome treatment option so ensure testing for tumour markers has been done.
Know your treatment options
Ask what treatment options there are to suit your lifestyle and personal needs as this changes from person to person. Also ask if there are any clinical trials available for you to consider getting involved in.
Know the side effects
Once you have been given a treatment ask about side effects. It’s important you have the best possible quality of life, so don’t wait to get help if you do experience any side effects from your treatment.
It is very daunting asking questions when you are scared to hear the answers but not knowing is worse because then you worry.
Consider getting a second opinion
It really is common practice to get a second opinion and your specialist won’t have any problems with it – ultimately, it’s your life.
Know your healthcare team
You may be cared for by a range of health professionals during your journey, each of whom specialises in a different aspect of your treatment. I’ve found it invaluable having access to a lung cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) to help me navigate my journey.
Information is power
Research to find out as much as you can about lung cancer, making sure, however, you are reading current and reliable information such as peer-reviewed journal articles.
Talk to others, you are not alone
Think about joining patient/consumer online groups which give you access to worldwide information and support from people who are going through exactly what you are – also invaluable.
Lots of people will offer you their advice during your journey. Whilst you may not agree with everything they say, advice usually comes from a good place so just sort through it and accept what you can cope with. Alternative therapy is the most common advice I was given but be aware of the charlatans out there making money from false hope. Make sure any treatment you have is evidence-based and from reputable sites, and always run it past your specialist.
I continue to work, look after my family and enjoy each day. My oncologist says with current treatment he can keep me alive for some years, then who knows what treatment options will be available – a lot of hope!
Carolyn is a beloved wife and mother, a teacher, and lung cancer battler.