Sarah's Triumph Over Lung Cancer
by Tammy Chernin, RPh
My shoulder had been bothering me for some time and my doctor was pressing me to have surgery. In April 1992 I went for a routine chest x-ray prior to my shoulder operation, scheduled for 2 days later. I was feeling optimistic about my upcoming operation and after the chest x-ray was taken I met my girlfriend for lunch and some shopping. My life, up to this point, was fulfilling, busy, and above all healthy. I had remarried only a year and a half ago to a caring, loving man, my three sons were doing well and we were excitedly awaiting the birth of my second grandchild.
Then, with just one phone call, my life took a dramatic turn for the worse. My doctor called back the same day to request I return for a repeat x-ray because something was "questionable". The sound of his voice that day on the phone shook me in a way that I cannot describe. My heart sank. Panicky and frightened I called my husband and he met me at the hospital. Dr. Fine, my family physician for over 20 years, pointed out the spot on the x-ray. They performed a biopsy and CAT scan and the diagnosis came back—lung cancer! My worst fears were quickly becoming a reality. That was on a Monday and by Thursday I had surgery to remove the upper lobe of my left lung.Amazingly, I recall that even through my dazed and confused state, I insisted on one last cigarette before I was wheeled into surgery. I had been a smoker for close to 25 years at that time.
While recuperating from the surgery, still in a state of shock and denial, I kept turning away the oncologist whenever he tried to visit me. He wanted to discuss chemotherapy treatments with me but I strongly resisted because anyone I knew who had received chemo died. To me it was a death sentence. Why when we had stumbled onto this so early and there was a very high probability these cancerous cells had not spread outside the lung do I need to put myself through chemotherapy? Finally, with my husband, son, and father all siding with the oncologist, I relented. They managed to convince me that the chemotherapy was my insurance policy to get that last possible cancer cell. It was time for me to put my complete faith in my team of specialists whose opinions I valued and trusted. I felt they had a sincere interest in my well-being.
It was fate that I scheduled my shoulder operation when I did, having postponed it before, and I put my hands in faith again when I began the chemotherapy. I was completely unprepared for the long struggle ahead. Once a month for nine months I underwent treatment. If having a positive attitude was going to save me I was in deep trouble. I experienced every side effect imaginable from mouth sores, infections, losing my hair to nausea, vomiting and unrelenting fatigue. Severe depression was setting in and I became distraught. I laid awake at night feeling lonely and afraid. I wouldn't shop for new clothes for what was the point if I wasn't going to live to wear them. I even offered my husband a divorce. As I had mentioned, we were newlyweds and I felt this wasn't what he had bargained for. It was a very low point in my life.
My husband, from the very beginning, pledged his support by always using "we" instead of "you" in every discussion about how I would survive. He reminded me every day that I was not alone. My family was very supportive and helpful. Strange things happen with your friends when that dreaded "cancer" word enters their lives. You find out who your true friends are in times of crisis. Some just couldn't deal with me having cancer - maybe they thought it was contagious or reminded them of their own immortality - I don't know. But the friends who there for me then are my closest, dearest friends now.
The chemotherapy was originally planned for 12 months but after reviewing my situation my doctor agreed to stop it after 9 months. Even he could see I couldn't tolerate the side effects any longer. They performed more tests and the results were all negative. I was declared cancer free! Cured! Cancer has forever changed my life. I still marvel that I didn't die. Symbolically, I bought myself a new, big car feeling safer and more protected than I had in my compact car. The true moments that matter to me most are the ones spent with family and friends. Without their offers of encouragement, friendship, unyielding support and sense of humor I sincerely doubt I would be here to tell my story. After experiencing some of the darkest days imaginable I am now thankful for each day.
I hope I can be a source of inspiration for others going through similar times. If there is anything I can share with them is to please not give up hope. You have not been handed a death sentence. Years ago there weren't any support groups in my area and perhaps if I had been able to talk to other people living with cancer it would have helped me cope with what I was going through. It's not that my family and friends weren't supportive but they weren't diagnosed with cancer. No one can identify with what you're going through unless they have experienced it themselves. Find a support group. Talk with them. Don't wallow in self-pity like I did. Put up a fight! Life is worth it!
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