A Lung Cancer Story
Almost thirty years ago my husband and I went off to Philadelphia to attend medical school. We learned about all kinds of diseases, including different types of cancers. I took care of many patients with lung cancer as a medical student, intern, and resident. Fast forward…..
At age 46, I started having trouble with my right hand. My physician finally ordered an MRI of my right arm. This MRI showed an innocent looking nodule (< 1cm) in my right upper lung. A PET scan was negative and I was told that it was probably nothing but, that I should have a follow-up CT scan in 4-6 months.
I had no respiratory symptoms and I was a never smoker with minimal to no exposure to second hand smoke. We continued to search for the problem in my hand, putting the nodule way in the back of my mind.
In five months I had a follow-up CT scan for the innocent appearing nodule - still struggling with my right hand problem. The nodule had grown and it now looked menacing. As soon as I saw it - I knew what it was - since I am a physician and had seen cancer before in patients. Nobody had to tell me the diagnosis - I waited to see the written report before telling my physician husband.
The recommendation for treatment was surgery and so I had a “surgical cure” for stage IA lung cancer. My husband and I were still searching for information and guidance. My surgeon believed that I did not need chemotherapy or radiation because I was a stage IA. My thoracic oncologist agreed with that assessment.
I went for my follow-up scans and appointments every 4 months, exercised as much as possible (spinning class) and prayed for strength. Although I had wonderful family support and love, the battle was mine.
Sixteen months after my initial diagnosis and surgery I was found to have an enlarging lymph node in my mediastinum - this immediately advanced me to a stage IIIA. A very rare “skip metastasis” – another question in lung cancer. Now I was really in a battle for my life.
I told my husband that first and foremost this diagnosis would NOT take over our lives. Although this lung cancer may take away my future - it would NOT take away my present. I wanted to live and so I set out to do everything I could to beat this disease. I went to spinning class, drank water as much as I could and ate when I could.
I had 12 weeks of chemotherapy followed by a second thoracic surgery (a thoracotomy with a right upper lobectomy) then followed by eight weeks of chemotherapy and radiation to my mediastinum.
I am now almost four years from completing the chemo/radiation and this January 20th I will hit the six year mark from my initial diagnosis. I think about all of the people not as fortunate as me. I wondered, “Why lung cancer?” But never, “Why did I get cancer?”
As a physician I always knew I would get something – everybody pretty much does. I never expected lung cancer. As a “never smoker,” I honestly didn’t realize the possibility of developing this deadly disease. After everything, I did still ask why me only I am really asking - why am I still alive – why me?
I have met other people like me who are fighting and whether they smoked or didn’t smoke, they never deserved this disease. As a physician I have a unique understanding of the medical world. Is it possible that I developed lung cancer to help in the fight? Is that the answer?
In 2008 while still recuperating from my fight, my husband and I started walking for exercise. We decided to walk the Philadelphia marathon in November 2008 in honor of Lung Cancer Awareness month. In 2010, we walked two marathons in six weeks - joined now by my sister! We will be walking the Philadelphia half marathon for the third time this November with LCA’s Team Long Love.
I will now advocate as a physician for research funding for lung cancer. Lung cancer needs to be stopped! It is our time to speak-out, inform, and spur people to action. We need to change that whisper to a yell!
Although I felt alone for a large part of my battle - I now know that I am part of an army formed by Lung Cancer Alliance and I am joined with all who are touched by this disease. Together we are raising our voices and together we will change the future of lung cancer.
Karen E. Arscott, D.O., M.Sc., AOBNMM