Successfully Living with Cancer

Dawn at the 2016 Lung Love Run/Walk Portland in June.

Dawn at the 2016 Lung Love Run/Walk Portland in June.

By Dawn Horner

I have always loved running. It is tough, but in a way that leaves you feeling lifted, happy and challenged all at once.  I have run in several races over the years but the most difficult one was the Sauvie Island Half Marathon in 2007, 13.1 miles, that’s 52 laps around the track! It was on the 4th of July, temperatures were in the upper 90s and the race organizers ran out of water half way through. Just as I hit a wall about two miles before the finish line, an elderly lady breezed past me, so I focused on her to try and keep up. Finishing that race was a huge relief.

Seven years later, in August 2014, I was presented with a very different physical, emotional and mental challenge, stage IV lung cancer. I was 51 years old, healthy and active. The worst part was that it took 17 months of repeated doctor visits, two misread chest x-rays and a second opinion before my cancer was found.

Once I made it through the initial shock and deep anger and frustration towards the healthcare professionals that took so long to find a diagnosis, we had to tell our kids. Believe it or not, telling them was one of the hardest elements of the whole process. Two of our children were in college and the other was starting a career on the other side of the state, I didn’t want them to stop living their lives. Once we broke the news, our family pulled together and held each other up.

I was told by a very wise young doctor that when I was in treatment, I could talk about cancer but when I went home I should leave my cancer behind. That same person also advised me to think of stage IV lung cancer as a chronic illness rather than a terminal illness. This guidance has really helped me keep this whole thing in perspective and allowed me to continue living my life.

Dawn shared her story at this year's Lung Cancer Summit in Washington, DC.

Dawn shared her story at this year’s Lung Cancer Summit in Washington, DC.

Early on in this journey I spent hours doing research on the different types of alternative medicine that were available. I changed my diet completely, leaving out red meat, dairy, coffee, wine and white starches. As time went by I learned to relax and find moderation. I’ve added coffee, red wine and a little bit of dairy back into my diet and I’m still doing great.  I was also able to maintain my exercise routine of walking, hiking and low mileage slow running.  Not only has this helped strengthen my physical health, but even more importantly, my mental health.

The best advice I could give someone recently diagnosed is to take life one day at a time and to not worry about the future. Live your life as full as you can each day, give thanks and tell those who are close to you that you love them.

To me, being a survivor means I am successfully living with cancer; it is not the end all anymore. I’ve met many people who have been living with stage IV lung cancer for a lot longer than five years. I have found strength through my family and friends, as well as meeting others who are battling this same disease.

When I first started treatment it was sort of like the Sauvie Island Half Marathon. It was not easy, I had to work at it every day, but I kept hope and found support outside myself. I’m planning to walk another half marathon in 2017, I guess I should start training soon!