Lalaine Alfaro

The City of Winnipeg has been my family’s home for more than twenty-one years now, and after living a healthy and well-balanced life for fifty-five years, I received the life-altering diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer on December 20, 2019.
It started with an intermittent cough for about two months, which was followed by progressive shortness of breath. I struggled to climb stairs and walk short distances, which were not a problem before. I also developed painful coughing and right shoulder pain. I even had to sleep on four pillows and on my left side for better breathing.

On Dec 4, 2019, I went to my GP’s clinic and had an x-ray taken right away. There was evidence of fluid in my right lung and I was advised to go to emergency ASAP. At the hospital, several tests were carried out including another x-ray, ultra-sound scan, CT scan, brain MRI and a lung fluid biopsy. The results were forwarded to a thoracic surgeon who carried out another pleural biopsy which showed I had stage 4 Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC). Genetic mutation testing was also performed, which resulted in an ALK positive diagnosis. As soon as all the tests results came in, I was referred to Cancer Care Manitoba for treatment in January 2020.
My husband and I first met a radiation oncologist, who explained the gamma knife treatment to us. This was quite a scare on my part, hearing the word knife going through my brain. But I calmed down when he said it was just a dose of radiation to shrink the brain tumour if needed. At the end of the consultation, he gave us a bit of good news that the ALK mutation occurs in one out of the 25 NSCLC patients who are non-smokers and under 55 years. More so, I could have targeted therapy treatment instead of radiation and chemotherapy. 
We met with a medical oncologist and he was a breath of fresh air after getting one bad news after another. He agreed to targeted therapy treatment and chose alectinib. Through Cancer Care Manitoba he set up my baseline markers for EKG, blood work, and chest/abdominal CT scans. However, my first brain MRI showed a tiny metastatic and asymptomatic brain tumour. 
On January 13, 2020, I began taking alectinib pills, an inhibitor for ALK+. Studies have indicated an overwhelming overall survival rate of about 35 months. After two months on the treatment, my symptoms improved. I breathe much better now and there is no more severe coughing. The brain tumour has shrunk and even the lung fluid has dried up. I am able to do my favourite chores like cooking and baking, though I constantly have to remind myself that I don’t have the same level of energy as I did before my diagnosis. It has been quite a miracle indeed!
When we received my lung cancer diagnosis we were quite shocked at first. Through prayers we got through to acceptance, with high hopes of remission for me. Before treatment, I was very weak, so my husband took care of all the household affairs and filled in my role in the family. I am grateful to my three children and my son-in-law, as they still manage to carry on with their normal routines at the same time, showing their great love and care for me.
There are so many uncertainties ahead of me especially with the COVID-19 pandemic. Being a lung cancer patient I am susceptible. When I leave the house for blood tests, CT scans, and brain MRI’s, I have to wear a facemask and follow social distancing protocols. With COVID-19 quarantine rules in place, Cancer Care Manitoba has switched to phone consultation and their pharmacy has opted for free home delivery. I am quite thankful I am in the good hands of a health care team who has shown amazing dedication to their jobs and great compassionate care for their cancer patients. 
As I live with my illness and being told no cure is at hand, I claim God’s promises from Isaiah 41:10 “ Fear not for I am with you” and Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.” Moreover, I have an amazing support system who pray for me and give me encouragement. Ultimately, I hope my treatment will keep prolonging my life, controlling the cancer spread, and posing minimal side effects. Beyond everything, I hope a cure will come very soon. 
Finally, my advice to others would be, believe in your health care team, have a support system, join local lung cancer patient support groups, read stories of lung cancer patients, breathe in positivity, and most of all keep faith in your pocket. If I had to convey what survivorship means to me, I would say, HOPE CONQUERS.