Carolanne Johns

My name is Carolanne Johns. I am both a breast cancer and lung cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in 2012 and stage 1b lung cancer in 2019.

We all know when someone in the family is diagnosed with cancer the whole family is affected. I am a wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and friend. I had many people standing beside me during my diagnosis and treatment. I was also lucky enough to have a support centre, Hearth Place cancer support centre, near where I live. Hearth Place is where I met the most incredible women, who were all going through exactly what I was going through. They were feeling the same feelings that I was feeling. We could be there for each other.  People, who are going through cancer together, form a bond that is not easily broken. It has been one of my biggest gifts. Some of these women are my closest friends today. 

Fast forward to October 2019. Every year since my breast cancer diagnosis, my breast surgeon always did a mammogram and an MRI. This alone is unusual, as I do not know of another survivor who was still seen by their breast cancer surgeon seven years later, let alone given an MRI. My oncologist and my radiologist had both released me. I was presuming the same from my surgeon. In her words she did not feel comfortable letting me go. I think the decision she made that day may have saved my life.

My routine mammogram and MRI in January of 2018 showed I had a small growth in my chest (that only showed up on the MRI not mammogram). She could not determine if it was on my heart or my lungs. “It was probably nothing” words I have learned to dislike. I was followed up by a CT scan three months later. Things began to look more suspicious; she referred me to the Toronto General RAMP Program. I met the lung surgeon whose care I would be under. A wonderful man with a positive attitude.

This is where they really began to dig deep, more MRIs, CT scans, pet scans and two biopsies later. The process is exhausting. Waiting for results is exhausting. Keeping your spirits up is also exhausting. Every single day you tighten your resolve to make it through whatever is coming at you with a positive attitude.

Then it came, “you have lung cancer” I had already had cancer once. Sounds odd, but I was thankful that it was a new primary and not metastasized breast cancer.  I know now that you only need to have lungs to get lung cancer. Unfortunately, this is still not a well-known fact. There is a lot of stigma around a lung cancer diagnosis. Everyone assumes you must have been a smoker. It is reported that Lung cancer is the least supported financially of all the cancers, yet it takes more lives than most of them put together.  I would tell people that I have lung cancer and follow up with “I have never smoked.”

Things started to move very quickly, my surgeon wanted to remove half of my lower left lung. In February 2019, I was scheduled for a lower left lobectomy and a wedge resection, for a spot, which they could not determine if it was cancerous. The thought was that I possibly had tuberculosis. This led to medical appointments, and breathing specialists. To this day they still don’t know what the second spot was (it was not tuberculosis or cancerous, but it is still being observed). Having half a lung removed was scary. You are not sure how your life will be compromised.  17 months later, I feel great, I am able to dragon boat, cycle and live everyday of the life I have been given. 

It has been hard to not feel guilty during my lung cancer journey, as so many people are diagnosed with stage 4 from the beginning. I know I have been given a gift.  I know that survivor’s guilt is a real thing. I feel so extremely thankful to have a surgeon that kept testing when I feel that no other doctor would have continued to do so. I know that early detection has made all the difference in the world to me, my family and friends. I know that early detection is something that needs to happen to save lives.

January 21, 2020 marked one year since my surgery. I feel that I am proof that early diagnosis makes all the difference. I am still cancer free but monitored closely every three months. For those of us who have been through cancer and are considered survivors, we (all my amazing cancer tribe) have to keep fighting the “hard fight” every single day.

The lung cancer survivors that I have been fortunate to meet, are amazing men and women.  No matter what they are going through, they want to lift you up and hold you there. 

Early diagnosis makes the lung cancer journey a bit easier. A low dose CT scan could save many lives. We all need to speak about it to anyone who will listen.