Lindsay Durstling

In mid-November 2019, after an amazing trip to the Happiest Place on Earth—Disneyland—I came down with a cold and a stubborn cough. I’m normally not one to go to the doctor for a cold, but for some reason, this one felt different. I suspected perhaps a sinus infection that would require some antibiotics to clear up and I’d be on my way. I booked in with my family doctor who for some reason felt like it would be a good idea to send me for a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia (even though she admitted that she highly doubted pneumonia be the case). I was sent out with the requisition and the instructions that she would call if there was anything found in the x-ray.
I returned to work the next day, and by noon I had a call from the doctor’s office asking me to come in right away to discuss my results. My heart sank—I knew I didn’t have pneumonia—but what else could it possibly be? I was anxious to get my workday finished so I could receive my results.
I met with the doctor later that afternoon where she told me that I had a 5cm mass in my right lung that had shown significant growth from another x-ray I had in 2016 for a shoulder injury. She said I would need to have a CT scan to get a better idea of what we were dealing with and there was a possibility that it might be cancer. How could I, a relatively healthy 31-year-old who loved to run, ate generally healthy and never smoked have lung cancer?!
Even though I was fortunate to get booked for a CT scan within a couple of days, the wait was agonizing. I wanted to know what this was for sure and, if it was going to be a worst-case diagnosis, to get on with the treatment. The scan confirmed to my GP that this mass didn’t look normal, however, she still wasn’t ready to confirm a cancer diagnosis, and I would need to be sent for a biopsy to be sure. One biopsy quickly turned into three different types. By the middle to end of December, I had a bronchoscopy, transthoracic biopsy, and a mediastinoscopy, where a lymph node was removed. Within a few days, I had a call from the surgeon confirming our worst fears: Stage 3B adenocarcinoma.
I had a PET scan completed to see if there was cancer anywhere else in my body, as well as a brain MRI to make sure nothing funny was going on upstairs. I then met with my oncology team to confirm these results, and to discuss what my options were. Thankfully the scans were clear, and we were just dealing with my lung. I had two options presented to me: chemotherapy and radiation followed by a full pneumonectomy or chemotherapy and radiation followed by a newer treatment called immunotherapy. After discussions with my oncologist and the surgeon who completed the biopsies, it was determined we would go down the second path. I was to swiftly start 3 rounds of chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation at the highest dose they could give.
After chemo and radiation were completed, I had another CT scan to see how well things worked and to determine if I would be able to move onto immunotherapy. Waiting the week for these results was agonizing—what some call having “Scanxiety”—and let me tell you, it was real!
We waited in the oncology doctor’s office and when the doctor came in he was hard to read. He handed me a package of all the chart notes and scans I’d had to date and then started discussing my latest results. He was happy to report that my mass had decreased to 3.8cm, and with that, I was ready to start my year-long immunotherapy journey. I was quickly lined up with my first appointment. We discussed possible side effects and what to look for. He told us that most of the side effects could be countered with steroids, but to watch and report anything that I felt from the long list he provided.
Almost nine months into immunotherapy and I’m feeling pretty good, I have very minimal side effects and am able to live a pretty normal life. I had a follow-up CT scan in the summer (which came with another dose of scanxiety). This time my results came via phone call due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The call was quick but filled with amazing news, as my tumour had now been reduced to 1.3cm. I was elated to learn just how effectively my treatment was working! I have one more scan in January, and I’m hoping my results will be just as good. I’ll continue with immunotherapy until April 2021, with the hope that this will be the end of my cancer journey.
I’m one of those who always tries to see the good in every situation, and my cancer has been no different. I’ve learned to reflect on what’s truly important in life, taking time in every moment to reflect on how what I’m doing is serving me, and finding gratitude in almost everything I do.