Candace Skrapek

Before I describe my lung cancer journey, I want to begin by telling you who I am. I was born and raised in Winnipeg but have lived most of my adult life in Saskatoon…I’m a true prairie girl! My husband and I have 2 adult married children and three beautiful granddaughters. My professional career was primarily in nursing education and since my retirement in 2008 my husband and I have loved to travel, and I am an active community volunteer.
In February of 2016 our lives were turned upside down by the surprising diagnosis of lung cancer. While in hospital for another condition, I was told that my CT scans showed a small nodule in the lower lobe of my left lung. What a shocker for me and my family…a coincidental diagnosis of lung cancer. Our worlds stood still momentarily as we tried to grasp the meaning of the findings. I knew only too well the grim statistics associated in the past with a lung cancer diagnosis and so despite being reassured by my thoughtful and skillful thoracic surgeon that the nodule was indicative of early stage lung cancer and that the prognosis was potentially good, my mind jumped back and forth between thinking the best and believing the worst. I thought constantly about my family and worried about them and for our future.
Following discharge from the hospital, I entered the world of fear, anxiety and uncertainty while undergoing further assessments to confirm the diagnosis and determine appropriate treatment. X-rays, CT scans, a PET scan and a lung biopsy all took what seemed to me to be an interminable amount of time, but in fact were actually carried out in a relatively timely manner. I just wanted to “get on with it”…meaning whatever treatment was needed. At the end of April 2016, I underwent the removal of my left lower lobe and some lymph nodes through a VATS procedure. Final diagnosis …Stage 1b Adenocarcinoma. I recovered well and was home within 3 days. My granddaughter in Ottawa was to have her first dance recital in June and so my goal became to be well enough to travel to Ottawa to be there to see her. That happened and I have gained strength, determination and resilience over time.
Although I continue to undergo follow up X-rays and CT scans I have gradually become “more normal” by reengaging in most of my previous activities and adding in some new ones. I lend my energies to a range of community groups and organizations that support quality of life and health system reform. I am a dedicated advocate and an enthusiastic volunteer working to raise community awareness about issues of importance to older adults, their families and their caregivers. I have also become engaged as a patient partner in health research initiatives in Saskatchewan. It is research that has brought us new and improved approaches to treating lung cancer and hopefully it will be research that provides a path to improved patient outcomes. More than subjects of research, patient partners and their families can provide a unique view and help lead innovation in health research and system redesign that is relevant, affordable and accountable.
I am certainly aware how fortunate it was that I was diagnosed early. This has reinforced for me how critical screening and early detection is for the long-term survival of lung cancer patients. In Saskatchewan, as in many other jurisdictions there is no formal regular screening program for lung cancer and until there is a screening program comparable to breast cancer and colon cancer screening there will continue to be unnecessary burden on those who are diagnosed in late stages. Also, in Saskatchewan, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Raising awareness about the effects of radon and educating the public on how to test their homes for radon is another key element of reducing incidence of lung cancer.
I have found great support through groups such as Lung Cancer Canada and the Canadian Lung Cancer Advocacy Facebook group Breathe Hope. Sharing stories and experiences from across Canada builds a strong community of interest based on mutual understanding and respect.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has been unsettling for everyone and we have all been impacted by the emergency public health responses put in place to keep citizens safe and support the health system to be able to respond effectively. Those of us who are lung cancer survivors have additional risks that create anxiety and stress. My family has been mindful of the necessary restrictions but looks forward to opportunities to gather together once again. I miss hugging my grandchildren! The newly developed resource, COVID-19 Cancer Patient Support Hub, provides a wealth of reliable information for cancer patients and their families. 

In thinking about what one word I might use to convey survivorship the word HOPE resonates strongly with me. I am hopeful that screening to detect lung cancer early will become a best practice in all jurisdictions in the near future and that research identifying effective treatments will continue to evolve at a rapid pace. I am confident that we will all emerge into the “new normal” better connected to one another. In true prairie spirit we will have the strength, determination and resilience of our ancestors and learn from history that we can be hopeful for a better future.