Life Lessons From a Nurse


April Plank, DNP

By April Plank, DNP, The Center for Lung Cancer Screening and Prevention, Stony Brook Medicine

I realized at a young age that I enjoyed working with people.  This rather broad statement could have led me down endless career paths. My decision to choose the nursing path was easily made after realizing that a nursing degree, while single in its title, yields endless opportunities.  During my years of schooling and internships, I came to discover two common factors that crossed all specialties:  Years of experience trumps book knowledge AND kindness matters.

I chose a full-time position in the medical intensive care unit where I gained experience with critically ill patients, including those with cancer. My notion of cancer being a terminal disease where the medical team is often powerless dissipated as I learned the many ways that a healthcare professional can impact a patient’s life.

I recall quite vividly my first patient with lung cancer.  Ms. E (as we will reference her here) was a 37 year-old heavy smoker who went on life support after she become septic during chemotherapy.  She was weak and frail with a beautiful blue head wrap.  During one visit, she asked me if I knew the song “Amazing Grace” which I would later learn was her father’s favorite song.  I told her that I did know the song well, as it was a regular during the Sunday church service I attended.  She explained that her father was coming in from out of town and she hoped that I would sing it for them during his visit. This request was a surprise but it wouldn’t be the last time that I would be asked to do something “outside of the box.” Shortly into her father’s visit, I heard the familiar sound of Ms. E’s call bell rang requesting the song.  I was joined by three ICU colleagues in the most moving and difficult song as Ms. E mouthed the words as we sang.  There was not a dry eye in the room and shortly after Ms. E. fell into her last sleep.  I wept endlessly as we prepared her for her eternal rest.

As I cried, asking “Why?”, I realized that I might never know all the answers.  I also became keenly aware that while we (nurses) might not always be able to cure patients of their disease, we are ALWAYS able to help make the journey easier and the burden lighter.

That evening, singing to Ms. E and her father, I realized that in addition to all the medications and care that people with devastating diagnoses needed, one thing that all of us in the healthcare profession could offer was HOPE.  Time and time again, I have seen the power of that hope in the eyes and lives of my patients dealing with a cancer diagnosis.

I focused on pulmonary diseases including lung cancer from that time on.  I later subspecialized in lung cancer as I recognized that the more focused I could be, the more expert I would become thus positioning myself to make the greatest contribution to those affected by the disease.

I am happy to report that the years that have passed since singing “Amazing Grace” have brought many changes in the lung cancer treatment arena.  New drugs and therapies as well as new treatments have emerged providing evidence that there is every reason to believe that progress is here to stay.  Lung cancer, which was once thought to be a terminal disease leaving us powerless, is becoming one that can be managed and people are living longer after diagnosis. I take great joy in informing lung cancer patients that HOPE prevails. I have watched in awe as many defy the odds and I enjoy sharing those stories with other’s fighting the disease. In addition to treatment options for those diagnosed, lung cancer screening guidelines now provide opportunities for those deemed at high risk for lung cancer to undergo screening for lung cancer with hopes of increasing early detection of this disease.  This coupled with smoking prevention initiatives in schools, smoking cessation education and environmental hazard awareness will also change the tide with a decrease in the burden lung cancer.

Additionally, I am passionate about helping patients through the guilt and shame that tends to accompany lung cancer as the “smoking cancer.”  They deserve the hopeful news that smoking cessation, even at the time of diagnosis, can result in better response to treatment, increased survival time and decreased rates of lung cancer recurrence.  I encourage every patient to channel their grief and regret for smoking to the mission of raising awareness among the millions of youngsters who are vulnerable in getting caught in smoking addiction.

Here are my words of advice to patients:

  • Never lose hope! And as one of my patients once said, “Live life to the fullest”.
  • Be sure to communicate with your healthcare team. It may be helpful to write down your questions and concerns so as not to forget during your office visits.
  • Don’t be shy about seeking a second opinion.
  • If you are, or were, a smoker; don’t dwell on the past but recognize that each day that the sun rises is a fresh start.
  • Read about patients who have defied the odds of this disease. Know your options for treatment and be sure that all of your questions are answered.
  • You are not alone in this journey. Allow your family, friends and healthcare team to support you along the way.  Consider joining a support group where you may meet someone who is many months or years into the diagnosis and can encourage you as you undergo treatment.

Much progress has been made in the lung cancer arena.  I speak on behalf of many who are honored to work in this field in saying we will not stop until we have found a cure.  Keep the faith and be forever HOPEFUL.


Coping Series: Digestive Problems

dig-issuesLast week we held the second discussion in our Coping Webinar Series, focused on the most common side effects of lung cancer treatment, digestive problems, including nausea, vomiting, constipation and diarrhea.

We sat down with Director of Palliative Care at Carolinas Healthcare System, Niki Koesel ANP, ACHPN, FPCN and oncology and palliative care doctor at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, Eric Roeland MD, FAAHPM to determine what causes common digestive issues, how to manage them and more importantly, how to prevent them.

Key Takeaways

  • Prevention is key! There are medications that can help prevent you from feeling ill.
  • Any changes or discomfort should be reported to your treatment team right away, whether experienced at home or in the infusion center. Your team cannot help you unless they know what is going on.
  • You are not alone! 70-80% of lung cancer patients experience some type of digestive issue when going through chemotherapy.

Nausea & Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are the #1 side effects of patients undergoing chemotherapy

Why is it important to address?

  • So you can feel better! Your treatment team has the tools to help.
  • It can interfere with the processing of chemotherapy
  • It can cause unplanned office/hospital visits


  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Regarding food, “If it looks good and you can keep it down, go for it”
  • Wear clothing that is loose fitting around your waist area
  • Be aware of your triggers (e.g. odors)
  • Try relaxation techniques


What does it mean? Any changes in how often you go to the bathroom or changes in the comfort of your stool.

Why does it happen?

  • Some treatments or medications can cause constipation (e.g. anti-nausea meds)
  • Electrolyte imbalances (e.g. dehydration, elevated calcium)
  • Decreased mobility

Talk to your doctor about the right medications for your situation. Additionally, here are some non-medication treatment tips:

  • Get regular exercised. Keep moving!
  • Dietary modifications (e.g. increased fluid and fiber intake)
  • Medication review and rotation if appropriate


What to do if you have diarrhea:

  • Maintain hydration
  • Protect perianal area
  • Treat infections
  • Ask your doctor about “overflow diarrhea” caused by constipation
  • Consider dose reduction or delay


  • The same amount should go in as comes out; drink plenty of clear fluids and avoid caffeine and milk products
  • Avoid greasy/fatty foods, raw fruits and vegetables and foods high in fiber

Click here to view the full webinar video.

For any questions about lung cancer and treatment side effects, call our HelpLine at 1-800-298-2436.

Lung Cancer Alliance’s Coping Webinar Series is a program to help you manage the side effects and symptoms of lung cancer and its treatment. Click here to learn more.

Four Easy Ways to Make a Difference This May!


It doesn’t take much to make a big difference in the life of someone impacted by lung cancer. Here are a couple easy ways to put a voice and a face to lung cancer in your local community and beyond!

  1. Send a Letter to Your Local Newspaper – Your story is unique and should be told. Not only will it raise awareness for a disease that is overlooked, but it will also provide hope and inspiration for those going through a tough time. Here is a sample letter!
  1. Get Social – Social media, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, make it easy to spread the word about lung cancer to your friends and others. Share your story with your online communities or we can do it for you! If you would like to be featured as a “Survivor Spotlight” please send a photo and quote to
  1. World Give Day – This year World Give Day lands on May 3rd. Giving a monetary donation is one of the easiest and most impactful ways to help someone touched by lung cancer. Share the love by honoring a loved one with your donation.
  1. Create a Fundraiser – Turn your favorite activity into a fundraiser! Whether it’s a weekly book club or running a marathon, do it for a cause. Now it is easier than ever to create a page, share it with friends and track your progress. Here’s how to get started!

Questions or having something else in mind? Let us know! Email

What We’ve Done These First 100 Days and What You Can Do!


By Elridge Proctor, MPA, Director of Health Policy

Spring is here and, yet, we are only just beginning the most serious part of Congress’ work which includes establishing budget priorities for this year. Furthermore, Congress will need to decide on funding for the rest of Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, then address the President’s upcoming FY18 full budget, which is scheduled to be released in May. Although, there’s a long road ahead and much remains to be done, we have already made some great strides forward for the lung cancer community.

Here’s a look at what we have accomplished thus far:

  • At the start of the new 115th Congress, LCA focused its first 100 days action plan on the potential impacts of the President’s and Congress’ effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which remains the law of the land, after the withdrawal of the “The American Health Care Act.”
  • Guided by patients, LCA developed and issued our Healthcare Principles for a patient-centric healthcare delivery system to Congress.
  • In addition, LCA partnered with the American Lung Association (ALA) along with 18 other public health and patient advocacy groups in a letter urging Congress to “Put Patients First” in healthcare.
  • LCA led direct advocacy efforts for federal research funding and healthcare through alerts on our Lung Cancer Action Center.
  • LCA in coordination with US Representatives, Rick Nolan (D-MN) and Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), re-established the Congressional Lung Cancer Caucus and recently held The State of Lung Cancer Today, briefing on Capitol Hill.

But we’re not done. Going forward, as important stakeholders in the ongoing healthcare policy discussions, you can help elevate the cause and amplify the voice of the lung cancer community by taking action on these critical issues:

Here’s what you can do!

The road ahead remains uncertain because healthcare policy priorities continue to evolve.  To stay informed and take your seat at the table, join us in Washington, DC from September 27-28 for the 2017 National Advocacy Summit focused on advancing patient-centric policies in the 115th Congress.

For more information or to send us your thoughts and questions email

A Message from LCA’s Board Chair


Cheryl Healton

By Cheryl  G. Healton, Dr. PH

Nice to meet you!

Although I just took the role of Board Chair, the truth is, I’ve been here alongside you for over a decade since I joined Lung Cancer Alliance’s Board of Directors in 2005.  I’ve spent my entire career working on a variety of health issues including tobacco control, substance abuse and AIDS, public education and health policy. Currently, I serve as Dean of the College of Global Public Health at New York University and hold an academic appointment as Professor of College of Global Public Health.

Prior to joining NYU, I devoted 14 years leading Legacy (now known as the Truth Initiative), as President and CEO of the ground-breaking national public health foundation that has made significant contributions to reducing the youth smoking rate from 23% in 2000 to the current low of 6%.

The deadly toll of tobacco is something I know well, both professionally and personally.  As a result, lung cancer – the nation’s number one cancer killer – is a disease about which I am well informed, but it goes deeper than that.

I am also a former two-plus-packs-a-day smoker who finally quit on Mother’s Day in 1992. While I’ve lost four family members to lung cancer and many more over the years due to tobacco-related causes, it was knowing I was addicted to nicotine myself that nudged me to quit.

My public health — and personal — background give me a unique perspective on dealing with this disease, but I also know that everyone who has been touched by lung cancer has their own personal connection. The bottom line though is that we’re all in this fight together — people like me who quit smoking, people who still smoke and people who have never smoked a day in their lives.

That’s why I’m honored to assume the position of Board Chair with Lung Cancer Alliance because it gives me a leadership platform to fight for meaningful change in the pursuit of fulfilling LCA’s mission of saving lives and advancing research by empowering those living with and at risk for lung cancer.

To be sure, it’s an amazing time in the fight against lung cancer. Never before have so many treatments been available and early detection opportunities exist to catch this disease at its most treatable stage.  But there is so much that can and needs to be done. That’s why I enthusiastically accepted this important appointment and why I eagerly look forward to seeing what we will accomplish next.




Volunteer. The Reward is Twofold.

Michelle and her daughter pose with the Philly Phanatic at Lung Love Run/Walk Philly.

Michelle and her daughter pose with the Philly Phanatic at Lung Love Run/Walk Philly.

By Michelle Russo

Up until the fall of 2010, I had never heard of Lung Cancer Alliance (LCA).  I was still in the throes of my husband’s sudden onset of lung cancer and his death within 39 days of diagnosis.  Lou passed away on July 9, 2010 at the age of 57.

Later that year, in November, my daughter called to tell me that she was headed to a lung cancer vigil in Denver, CO where she was attending graduate school.  When I hung up the phone I immediately googled lung cancer vigils.  This is how I found LCA.

Before I knew it, I was in Washington, DC for the National Advocacy Summit.  I remember walking into a large reception hall where everyone was sitting at a table listening to a speaker and then they began to pass the microphone. Each person was telling their own story about how lung cancer impacted their life. I remember thinking how almost everyone was a family member; there were very few survivors.

Michelle and Lou

Michelle and Lou

Since then I have attended more Summits, hosted many Shine a Light on Lung Cancer events each November, ran fundraisers and coordinated the Lung Love Run/Walk Philly 5K  for three consecutive years (our 4th coming up on April 22nd!).  Most importantly, I have raised awareness for this horrific disease and guided individuals to the resources they need in their own fight.  I have been there to support patients and families.  I have become an advocate!

My husband was always very proud of me. He would brag about my accomplishments and I would blush.  I know that once again I have made him proud.  I continue to volunteer in his memory but also for everyone still fighting lung cancer.

In the six short years that Lou has been gone, I am amazed at the changes in the lung cancer community. When I attend a Summit now I sit in awe of all the survivors in the room! However, we have a very long way to go!

My affiliation with LCA has changed my life. When I needed to change my sorrow and negativity into something positive, LCA provided me with that opportunity. I would encourage everyone to reach out and volunteer or participate in an event. The reward is twofold; you are helping change the face of lung cancer AND you are receiving an immeasurable feeling of fulfillment.

Join Michelle at Lung Love Run/Walk Philly on April 22nd at the Philadelphia Zoo. Click here to learn more!

Interested in attending the 2017 National Advocacy Summit in Washington DC this fall? Click here!

Yes, you CAN make a difference in research

Jim and his family.

Jim and his family.

By Jim Pantelas

My wife was six-and-a-half months pregnant on the day I was diagnosed with stage 3B, non-small-cell lung cancer. That was eleven years ago and I’ve been dancing with NED (no evidence of disease) for the past ten years. But dancing doesn’t necessarily mean having fun.

Has my life been impacted by lung cancer? I can’t even begin to list how much everything has changed! Like many, my ability to continue in my career was seriously damaged. It’s not that I couldn’t still do what I used to do. Rather, it was that I couldn’t predict the days that I wouldn’t be able to do anything – and, for a while, those days happened with great frequency.

So what does a workaholic do with his life when he can no longer work? He volunteers! I began volunteering ten years ago – first at the children’s hospital that took care of my daughter, and then, more and more in support of lung cancer funding, legislation and research. And that involvement is now a major part of my life.

To be clear here, I have no formal medical or research training. My background is in building and running IT consulting organizations. When I was technical – a seeming million years ago – I was a computer systems management specialist. I worked with brilliant people, and I had a knack for building strong teams, but I was nowhere close to understanding medical issues, medical research or cancer. But I became a quick learner.

So what does the life of a research and patient advocate look like? Let me show you by giving you an idea of what the month of March looked like for me.

It started with assignments to review multiple research proposals as a peer reviewer for PCORI (Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute). I represented the non-scientist and patient perspective on an oncology IRB (Institutional Review Board) at the university I volunteer at. I also sat on an IRB for my local Veterans Administration Hospital, and I participated in two IRB meetings for the NCI (National Cancer Institute) where I’m also a regular board member. I followed up on two research efforts that I helped to develop and worked on a draft for a research project I want to pursue. I sat on a Pediatric Ethics Committee (and have for the past 10 years), chaired a Patient Experience Board, was a member of a Cancer Council and participated in a Quality Panel for the hospital where I receive my care. On March 26th, I drove to Washington DC to attend the PCORI review panel meeting and I ended the month reviewing three additional proposals for MICH-R (Michigan Research Institute) which I’ll present and defend in the coming weeks.

This didn’t all happen at once. Ten years ago I started by volunteering to be a patient representative on a Pediatric Ethics Committee. Over the last ten years I’ve just gotten more and more involved.

Why do I do this? Mostly, I’d say it’s because it all matters. Maybe it’s because I’m still alive and this is my way of paying the universe back for allowing me to continue breathing.  But in reality, it’s because I love what I’m doing. The work I do has value to my lung cancer community and it has value to my family.

Today I have three daughters, Stella who is now 11, Grace who is so close to turning 9, and my baby Leda, who is 7. My life is full. My family means the world to me, my work has meaning and my days are filled with laughter as I struggle to get smarter just to keep up with the truly bright people I work with.

And on those days when I don’t feel grateful to be alive or days when the exhaustion is particularly difficult; I’m comforted by knowing that I can still contribute and that my involvement is welcomed by a community that appreciates my perspective.

 Click here to find out how you can make a difference in research! 


My Purpose, Our Purpose

Ken and Sheila

Ken and Sheila

By Ken Wheatley

As a caregiver and now widower, lung cancer radically changed the course of my life and my daily existence. I had finally found the most perfect woman. “Soulmate” tends to be an overused word, but in this case it was completely applicable. Having Sheila in my life was like having a constant dose of oxytocin – the love or cuddle hormone. So, when she was diagnosed with stage IV non-small cell lung cancer six months after we got engaged, that was the beginning of the end of my “life.” We got married anyway and Sheila passed away 15 months later.

Ken being honored at the National Advocacy Summit for his volunteer work.

Ken being honored at the National Advocacy Summit for his volunteer work.

I got involved with the Lung Cancer Alliance beginning in 2012 and have attended two National Advocacy Summits in Washington, DC. Attending the Summits provides me with an opportunity to recharge by not only communing with people who have a shared experience – either as a patient or as a caregiver – but to put a necessary “face” to the issue in front of congressional decision makers.  The event offers a platform for those impacted by lung cancer to connect with one another and our country’s key decision makers, offering both physical and emotional benefit to knowing that our presence in DC matters.

I can’t make sense of why Sheila was taken so suddenly from me and all those who love(d) her. Maybe my purpose, our purpose, is to use what talents or abilities we have, however large or small, to affect change through advocacy and being involved in the efforts to eradicate lung cancer, like participating in the Summits. Research and research funding are vital, and there are organizations dedicated to that path. Advocacy, while not as “sexy,” is a critical and necessary component of the battle.

The 2017 National Advocacy Summit will take place in Washington, DC from September 27-28, 2017. For more information, click here!

With Every Breath We Take

Brad and Lana

Brad and Lana

By Brad Thacker

I was blessed with a beautiful, fun and kind sister, Lana. Although she was eight years older, we were very close. We lost my mother to breast cancer when I was in college and Lana took me under her wing and was always there.

In our adult years, although we lived many states apart, I saw Lana often. She would fly into Chicago with friends or my other sister, Susan, to attend and support my theater productions.  For many years, I have been performing and producing musical cabaret and theatrical productions and Lana was always my biggest fan.

In 2014, Lana was diagnosed with lung cancer and fought it with all her strength for two years. I was blessed to be able to care for her the last six months of her life. I moved from my home in Chicago to Denver, where Lana lived, and spent days in and out of the hospital. Chemo, radiation and emergency rooms became the norm. I tried to make every day special for her. Last year, we lost Lana.



During the last few months of Lana’s life, my dear friend Nan, an amazing Chicago singer and entertainer, would call to help with advice and emotional support. Nan lost her sister, Gerri, to lung cancer a few years earlier and helped guide me along this very difficult journey.

In honor of Lana and Gerri, Nan and I, along with a couple other talented friends, put our heads together to create a musical cabaret show featuring over 15 of Chicago’s finest singers and entertainers. The show is called “With Every Breath We Take” and will take place on May 7th in Chicago with a portion of proceeds going to Lung Cancer Alliance.

Our hope is to not only remember those we have lost, but also make a difference for those who are impacted by lung cancer right now.

To learn more about Brad’s upcoming event, click here.

It is now easier than ever to create your own lung cancer fundraiser in your community. Click here for details or email to get started!

Survivor Spotlight: Maureen

Maureen with her daughter on her 21st birthday.

Maureen with her daughter on her 21st birthday.

In the early spring of 2011 I was on my first 6-mile outdoor run of the season. My hip was really bothering me. Two weeks later my husband insisted that I go see the orthopedist for my, “sports injury.” After several weeks and an MRI my doctor referred me to an orthopedic oncologist to discuss treatment for the growth in my hip. On June 2, 2011, at the age of 46, I had a hip reconstruction. A long titanium rod with six screws now holds my hip together. My doctor told me it was cancer and that I would probably not live to see my daughter graduate from high school. At the time she was 15 years old and my oldest of three.  My boys were 13 and 11.

Fast forward, it turned out that I had NSCLC with one very small tumor in my upper left lobe. No other cancer was found anywhere with the exception of my hip. I underwent radiation to the hip and my pathology was genetically tested. It found that I have the EGFR mutation. I have been on Tarceva ever since. I underwent a lobectomy later that year. There was one cancerous lymph node adjacent to the tumor so I then underwent four rounds of chemo. All was good following those crazy few months and I continued on the Tarceva.  Then, at exactly four and a half years to the day, a PET scan revealed that I had mets in my brain. I’ve undergone two gamma knife surgeries and am currently back in remission.

I am so thrilled to have such a wonderful team of doctors!  I was not only able to see my daughter graduate high school, but also go through the process of choosing a grad school. She will begin that next chapter in August.  My 13 year old is now 19 and finishing his freshman year in college and my 11 year old is now a high school junior on the college search. Every day is a miracle for which I am so grateful.

The best advise I could give a newly diagnosed patient is don’t despair. Keep a positive attitude for yourself and your family. There are so many new treatment options since I’ve been diagnosed, with more on the horizon.

Click here to read more inspiring survivor stories!