By Elaine Gage
I am 84 years old and a 26 year survivor of Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC). My lung cancer diagnosis has shaped my life. In 1989, I went into the doctor with some persistent shoulder pain. While discussing my health with my doctor, I mentioned I was a smoker and was due for my annual chest x-ray. An often routine procedure, but one that constantly haunted me, finally forced me to face my biggest fear; they found a nodule on my lung and it looked like lung cancer.
16 days later I went in for surgery and shortly after started chemotherapy. I never considered dying. Death was not an option for me. Although we knew lung cancer statistics were not good, my husband and I deliberately did not look into the facts, as a means of self-protection. I chose to only focus on one thing at a time. It was too hard to think past the present. I concentrated on healing from surgery, then getting through chemotherapy and did not let myself worry about the consequences. Now this isn’t to say I wasn’t scared to death; I was.
After getting through those difficult times, to everyone’s surprise, I started to get better. At the time, this was unheard of for a SCLC patient. “Why me?” “Why did I survive?” I would ask myself. There had to have been a reason for it and I decided I must take advantage of the life I had been given and help others.
A few years after my diagnosis, I started to volunteer. I was contacted by the organization that is now Lung Cancer Alliance. They were a small “kitchen table” group of passionate people who I was instantly drawn to. I found my niche as a Phone Buddy, speaking with other SCLC survivors on the phone. I was able to help them through their lung cancer journey, by offering advice and hope from my own experience. I believe I received more out of this experience than the patients I was talking to. I met the most amazing people. I am so impressed with the courage of cancer patients.
Later on, I took my volunteering off the phone and into our local hospital in Southern CA, where I had once been treated for my lung cancer. I joined the Mended Hearts group, who spent time with hospital patients before and after surgery, offering them care and company. I wanted to work with lung cancer patients specifically, but there was no such program. I have never been one to pass up an opportunity, so I decided to create a lung cancer specific program myself.
We would visit the patients while they were waiting to go in for surgery, tell them “I know how you feel. I was there and look where I am now.” It was an incredibly beneficial process, not only for the patient, but for me as well. We would meet them after surgery with a homemade pillow and a smile. Looking back, I felt very lonely during my diagnosis and surgery, so it felt good to be there for them.
Lung cancer has shaped my life tremendously. I recently decided I would leave a gift in my will for Lung Cancer Alliance. The folks at Lung Cancer Alliance are my friends. I see this as a way to say thank you to the lung cancer community for the benefits and opportunities they have provided me over the years. Lung cancer is such an important, yet overlooked, cause. If you give money, you want to give it to people who know how to spend it in a worthwhile way and I trust Lung Cancer Alliance. Lung cancer research, support and spreading awareness is where I want my legacy to continue.
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