Christine Lacree

My Cancer Story
One evening in early April of 2015, I was having chest pain that frightened me, so my husband and I went to the emergency room of our nearest hospital. I was given a routine chest x-ray; the doctor came back with the result that a spot was found on my left lung. He said that it was nothing to be concerned about as many people have spots that are meaningless. My chest pain subsided and proved to be nothing, but I was told to be sure to get another chest x-ray soon. The second x-ray also showed a spot on my left lung; a CT scan revealed that it “looked like a 1 cm, spiculated nodule that could be cancer". So began my terrifying year of testing to diagnose the nodule.
Tests included a bronchoscopy, multiple CT scans and a PET scan, none of which were able to definitively diagnose my nodule, even though it had 2 or 3 of the markers that define cancer.  Finally, the CT scan that marked a year since my first x-ray showed a minute amount of growth, which prompted my surgeon to perform a laparoscopic biopsy in June. It successfully diagnosed my nodule as Stage 1B Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. Cancer cells were also found on my pleural lining. I wasn’t surprised; somehow, I’d felt all along that this would be the diagnosis, and I wished that the surgeon had removed it as soon as the spot was detected. A lobectomy was scheduled and I waited impatiently for a date. The surgical date was fixed for August 22, the morning of my 68th birthday. Unlike my first surgery, which frightened me, I looked forward to the removal of my left upper lobe so that I could be fairly certain that all the cancer cells had been removed.
When I woke, the surgeon told me that he had not done the lobectomy because he found 6 or 7 cells in the lining of my lung. Instead, he had taken another biopsy and nothing more. At that point, he told me that I had perhaps a year to live. Did my husband and I have questions?  Questions?  We were in complete shock and disbelief; we said nothing. He promised to pop in later, as he was sure that by then, we would have questions. We did not. He told me that I could go home the next day, but my husband and I were not even able to talk about what had occurred.
The next morning, I was taken to x-ray but felt very nauseated, so I was returned to my room without one. I told my nurse that I was not ready to go home yet; we stayed another two days, completely unable to face the world that waited to hear how my surgery went. How could I possibly go from Stage 1B to Stage 4? How would I tell my sons, the youngest of whom was arriving the same day I returned home?  We cried together; what else was there to do?  My son and granddaughter stayed for that first week after my surgery; we visited beautiful gardens and took a horse and carriage ride, which really lifted our spirits. In September I had a brain and abdomen scan and a few days later, followed-up with my surgeon. Again, he spoke about my upcoming death, having palliative chemo so that I would be comfortable, and deciding whether to have the chemo sooner or later. Delaying treatment would likely cause negative consequences. I should also get my legal papers in order and write my will. I would receive a call from the cancer centre within a few weeks.
At the cancer centre, I was told that the surgeon could have gone ahead with the lobectomy, but because cancer cells were also found in my lung lining, they were likely in other parts of my body as well. I was also told that I had no gene mutations. This oncologist said that my treatment would be CT scans every 3 months and that we would delay chemo for as long as possible. I also received my chemo treatment plan for when the time would come.
Thinking about dying, about leaving my husband of 3 years and my children and grandchildren behind was devastating. I cried very often every day and found sleep difficult to get. I cried alone in the dark of night. After two weeks of sobbing, I decided that spending my final year of life sobbing was not what I wanted to do. Instead, I made plans and wills for my husband and myself. We spent our days walking with our beloved little Chihuahua until I found that I was feeling much stronger. The only difficulty I had been coping with was the contrast dye used with every CT scan; I felt woozy and sick for a few days after each scan. Thankfully, every scan was clear.
In April of 2017, I realized that two years had gone by since my spot had been discovered. I had not had any shortness of breath or fluid in my lungs, nor had there been any need for chemo. Meanwhile, the economy had changed, and housing was more difficult to find.  In this air of uncertainty, my youngest son asked us to move to the city he and his family lived in; we quickly agreed and made our move to another province and city in late July.
Before our arrival, I received an appointment to the new cancer centre even before we moved, and I had my first appointment there in September. My husband and I were very impressed with the centre and found staff there very kind, friendly and helpful.  My new oncologist runs a chemo clinic; I would receive chemo if and when I required it.
My treatment plan has always been "watch and wait", with chemo being my only option.  We went to an informative but sobering chemo class, but I will not have chemo until it is necessary.  I began with CT scans done every 4 months.  Scans went well until July of 2018, when I got nauseated from the contrast dye and threw up a number of times. I was so embarrassed that I cried, but the nurse was very kind and helpful.  It left me not feeling well for several days after. Since then, I have gotten sick during each scan; because my cancer cells are growing very slowly, I was put on a schedule of scans every 5 months.  I not only have 'scanxiety' prior to every scan, I also dread them because we have found nothing that will prevent me from the nausea that leads to vomiting.  Since December of 2019, my scan schedule is every 6 months.
In December, my oncologist reminded me that I am now 4 years and 7 months since my diagnosis. I intend to have a celebration when I reach that magical 5th year. My cancer cells remain in my pleural lining, but the original nodule in my lung has not retuned.
I am so grateful for every day that I wake up. Having cancer has taught me that each day is a gift; life can change in the blink of an eye. My faith, along with the prayers and support of many people have allowed me to find hope where first there was none. Hope grows with each appointment with my oncologist, who encourages me each time we meet. I am more focussed now on what is important in my life and what is not. I've become stronger emotionally and spiritually. I will live with this lung cancer with gusto and joy.