By Kathy Sinclair
In May 1999, I discovered a lump in my breast. I recall the radiologist spending time with me following an ultrasound to alleviate my fears. A nurse navigator was summoned and she provided me with a packet of information about the disease and services that were available to me. I felt that I had a team behind me. Surgery confirmed the lump was cancerous.
In preparation for lymph node surgery I had a chest x-ray which revealed a spot on my left lung. Was I already stage IV? In June I had a wedge resection and learned, on my 41st birthday, that the tumor was lung adenocarcinoma. This time there was no nurse navigator coming to my aid. I did not learn of any treatment plan until I met with my new oncologist a couple weeks later. Both cancers were early stage. The lung surgery was considered curative and prognosis for the breast was equally good. Although I was just diagnosed with two different cancers, I was feeling lucky! I looked at the breast cancer as a gift which led to the early detection of the lung cancer. Had I not had the breast cancer, diagnosis of the lung cancer probably would have occurred much later after symptoms were present.
In the fall of 2003, I discovered a soft spot on my skull. My luck was about to change. As frightening as the first encounter with cancer had been, the Friday night that I saw my skull light up on the bone scan was terrifying. I was alone in that room, it was late and the technician confirmed my suspicion. A craniotomy followed which determined the cancer to be lung in origin. I was now stage IV lung cancer. The survival statistics were very grim, but I was determined to do whatever it took to beat the odds. While I was not at risk for either disease, genetic testing following one of my many craniotomies found that I was strongly positive for EGFR. Luckily for me a drug was developed which targets the mutation. It has been 5 years since my last cancer surgery.
In 2010, when I learned from Lung Cancer Alliance of the disparity in cancer research funding, I began advocating locally and in Washington, DC to raise awareness about lung cancer. I was shocked and then angered that the #1 cancer killer received just a fraction of the federal funding that other common cancers received. It is not surprising then that since the war on cancer was declared in 1971 the 5-year survival rate for prostate cancer increased from 69% to 99% and breast cancer went from 75% to 90%; but, for lung cancer the rate barely moved from 13% to 17%. I am one of more than THREE MILLION breast cancer survivors alive today. At the same time, I am one of only 330,000 lung cancer survivors alive today – it shouldn’t be this way.
My hope is that more people will be as lucky as I to be living with lung cancer after 16 years from diagnosis.