Chemo Has Aged Me…Cancer Has Changed Me

September 25, 2017

Let’s get honest shall we. Today I did a live interview on Channel 9 to plug the Denver-Free to Breathe event. There was much about this interview that took me out of my comfort zone and challenged me on many levels. First, my look has changed. My hair is coming back in, but is thin. The eyelashes on my right eye are almost non-existent. It took 11 minutes this morning to get my false eyelashes on. One minute for the left eye, ten minutes for the right. My eyes water…all the time and yet I have dry eyes and must use drops, hence, making it harder to keep the false eyelashes on. My skin is thinner; I bruise easily. My face is rounder yet my skin has less elasticity.

Leanna and I had talking points we needed to try and stick to today, yet I had 4 pages of notes which I couldn’t touch on. These are only a few of the facts I know about lung cancer today that I didn’t know 15 months ago:

~ Exposure to tobacco smoke is the primary etiologic factor responsible for lung cancer.                                                                               (Actually, I did know that).

~ Emerging information supports the notion that lung cancer in never-smokers is distinct enough from an epidemiological and biologic standpoint to be considered a separate entity. Yet lung cancer treatments have historically been the same. New targeted, biologic and immunotherapy drugs are changing the treatment and survival times for those who have the right genetic markers…this is a big step in the right direction.

~ As the numbers of never-smokers in the United States and other countries rises, the issue of lung cancer in this group becomes even more critical.

~ One in sixteen people in the US will be diagnosed with lung cancer in their lifetime. Trust me, no one thinks they will be the ‘ONE’.

~ 60-65% of all new lung cancer diagnoses are among people who have never smoked or are former smokers.

~ 18 – 20% of lung cancer cases are in never smokers (less than 100 cigarettes in a lifetime).

~ More than 2/3 of never-smokers diagnosed with lung cancer are women.

~ Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths, regardless of gender or ethnicity, taking almost 160,000 American lives each year.

~ More lives are lost to lung cancer than to colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers COMBINED.

~ Lung cancer has been the leading cancer killer of women since 1987, killing more women each year than breast cancer, uterine cancer and ovarian cancer COMBINED.

~ Lung cancer receives less federal research funding in comparison to other cancers. Funding per life lost for lung cancer is only $2,399.00. The next top three cancers receive an average 7.5x more funding per life lost. This is one of the reasons why I advocate and fundraise for lung cancer research and awareness.

~ The five-year survival rate for lung cancer in the US has risen only 1% in the last decade. This needs to change.

~ Adenocarcinoma- Of non-small cell lung cancers, this is the tumor most often found in young adults, women, and people who have never smoked. Lung adenocarcinoma usually begins in the outer regions of the lungs, and can grow quite large before it is detected. Since these tumors are usually located away from the airways, commonly recognized symptoms such as coughing are less common. Early symptoms are often subtle, shortness of breath with activity, chest and/or shoulder pain, and/or a general sense of ill health. I felt fine, it was the pain that alerted me.

~ And finally, the big one – Stigma. Prior research has suggested that the negative feelings people have about lung cancer are due to a combination of the stigma, blame and hopelessness.Stigma and blame meaning that lung cancer is often viewed as a self-inflicted disease caused by smoking. I don’t suffer from self imposed stigma but I do find that I often need to justify the fact that yes, I have lung cancer, and no, I never smoked. Everyone deserves a cure…everyone, no matter what kind of cancer or smoking history.

All that being said, I am in a very good place.  59 years old, I realize that my appearance will  change, cancer or no. My worry in a previous life of ‘Should I get botox?’ ‘Should I have my eyes done?’ ‘When should I consider a face lift?’ ‘What about CoolSculpting for those saddle bags?’ ‘Should I cut my hair and/or let it go grey?’ are relegated to a file in my brain computer labeled ‘Prior to Chemo’. This lesson in loving oneself -no matter what – is freeing. I’m beginning to like my pixie hair, false eyelashes and glasses – the new me. They reflect who I am today.  Do I catch others looking at the changes, comparing the new me with the old me, yes. It’s human nature. I can only hope that they also see the changes in ME and realize that these physical changes don’t hold a candle to the spiritual, mental and emotional changes I continually experience. No need for platitudes, I am comfortable with who I am. I don’t judge what anyone else does in this regard. If it brings more love of self then by all means do it!  I would have. There might even come a time when I consider these things again.  Who knows what tomorrow brings after all.

And so, I continue on. One foot in front of the other, learning, loving, being. I find meaning in advocating for lung cancer awareness and joy in the fact that I’m still here! Loving and enjoying being alive! That’s what matters to me today.


Link to the Channel 9 Interview.

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