By Ginny Hicks
I’m not very good at remembering dates but September 30, 2014 is a date I will always remember. It’s the date I was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer. A surprising diagnosis considering that cancer does not run in my family, I’m not a smoker and I did not grow up in a home with second hand smoke. My husband and daughter were with me in the hospital when the oncologist, whom I had just met, gave me the news. I think we laughed and said, “You must be in the wrong room, have the wrong patient or the wrong file.” After all, I’m the one who enjoys exercise and eating healthy.
My oncologist did not have the wrong patient and I do have lung cancer. At first I felt like I was in a bad dream and I kept hoping I would wake up soon; that my life would be “normal” again. I went through all the stages of grief, mourning the loss of my life as I had known it. My greatest fear was becoming a burden to my family.
Fortunately, the stage of feeling sorry for myself did not last long. As an elementary teacher and principal for 34 years I thought of children I had known. Children who faced enormous challenges, like abuse, neglect and abandonment. These children were between the ages of 5-12. I had been living a good life and I had no room to feel sorry for myself.
I started chemo one month later, the day before my 59th birthday. For six months I went in for treatment every three weeks. My first scans showed the spot on my right middle lobe was smaller, the cancer was gone from my sternum lymph nodes and the lymph nodes under my left arm were still enlarged. I continued on maintenance chemo every three weeks, with scans showing the ebb and flow of cancer. It’s difficult to understand how I can be so sick when I feel so good (excluding a few days after chemo).
I joined the Lung Cancer Alliance to learn as much as I could about cancer. I became a Phone Buddy which brought me great joy and satisfaction. My Buddy helped me as much as I helped her. It was heartbreaking when my Phone Buddy friend died this spring. I think of her often and miss talking with her.
I see a counselor who helps me navigate the ups and downs of the cancer journey. I attend a support group, eat healthy foods, take supplements, state positive affirmations and exercise. I walk and jog and go to the gym when time permits. I have always felt better when I exercise.
Earlier this year I arrived at the conclusion that I would no longer fight cancer. I have cancer. It is part of who I am. I will most likely always have cancer but it does not define me. Fighting cancer gave cancer too much power and influence over my life. Instead, I decided to focus on living the best possible life I could imagine. A life full of joy and happiness with anticipation of good things to come. Sure, some days are easier than others.
I am a new grandmother and my grandson is the best medicine ever. I work at staying positive, making mental lists of all I have to be thankful for and wake up each day glad to be alive. Cancer changed me…for the better.
I recently returned from the National Lung Cancer Summit in Washington, DC. It was an amazing experience, one I enjoyed very much. I met strong, positive, capable people with stage 4 lung cancer. I gained strength and momentum from them and only hope I can be as brave and courageous as they are.
I wish us all well on our journey.
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