In February 2017, I was diagnosed with Stage IV Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer at just 49 years old. Prior to my diagnosis, I was living with a persistent cough for about a year and a half. Although I thought these symptoms were a combination of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and asthma, I was becoming increasingly concerned and thought that perhaps I was developing pneumonia. I consulted with my family doctor, and a chest X-ray and subsequent CT scan resulted in the diagnosis of lung cancer. I was then referred to a thoracic surgeon whom administered a biopsy and “Pleurix” tube (to remove 3 litres of fluid from the lining of my lung), and it revealed I had the EGFR biomarker mutation.
My cancer journey started with a targeted therapy treatment for the biomarker. I was placed on afatinib, which was quite difficult with numerous side effects and multiple dose reductions, until it was tolerable for me. By the 11th month, a follow up CT scan showed progression and my oncologist recommended another biopsy to screen for a possible new mutation. In January 2018, it was confirmed that I had the T790M positive. My treatment plan changed to osimertinib, another targeted therapy, and I continue with this currently. I recently completed 11 superficial radiation therapy (SRT) treatments as an adjunct therapy for two nodes (6mm & 8mm) that showed up on another follow up CT scan in July 2019.
Being diagnosed with lung cancer was extremely shocking for myself and my family and friends. I was a never smoker, and quickly learned the only requirement for lung cancer was to have lungs. My life was forever changed. The early days of my diagnosis were dark, I felt lost and scared, depressed and anxious. All the things I envisioned for my life had completely changed. The prognosis seemed grim and the side effects of my first targeted therapy made me extremely ill (daily IV’s for six weeks and 6 ER stays).
As I stabilized, I began to feel HOPE and find the silver linings of my life, my new life which was a survivor, living with lung cancer. I began to connect with social media groups and patient and caregiver groups across North America, for which I am so grateful for the fantastic connections, the love and the support in knowing that I was not alone. I am also extremely thankful for the fantastic Ottawa Cancer Center doctors to whom I was referred. I always say, “From darkness came light.”
Having lung cancer has also opened up my world of advocacy on current cancer research, latest targeted therapies, and new and immersing treatments. I attended the IASLC WCLC18 –Toronto, WCLC19 - Barcelona and the LUNGevity HOPE Summit in Washington this past April. I have gained incredible knowledge about my own lung cancer diagnosis, which has allowed me to be my own advocate, would not be standing here today without innovative therapies or lung cancer research. Since my diagnosis, there have been great advances in lung cancer research and survivorship. Lung cancer patients are living longer and getting stronger because of innovative therapies and research. It is my wish that my story can inspire others to find HOPE.