My cancer journey didn’t really start with my diagnosis. It actually started with my son Mark’s diagnosis.
Mark was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in December 2010, at the age of 55. He passed away just three months later, in March, 2011. His loss is still unbearably painful and has left behind a pain that I know will be with me always.
Having no idea how to even begin healing from his loss, I threw myself into helping others. I got very involved with the lung cancer community. It was and is very important to me to make others aware that lung cancer is the #1 cancer killer. It’s terribly underfunded and carries with it an unfair stigma. Too many people “blame” lung cancer patients for their diagnosis, particularly if they find out they are or they were smokers. No one – smoker or not – should ever be blamed for a cancer diagnosis.
I had no symptoms at all prior to my diagnosis. In fact, I was very busy finalizing the details for a walk to raise money for lung cancer research, a yearly event I started coordinating to honor Mark’s memory. Three days before the walk, I slid back on a landing in my house and fell. The first step hit me in the back of my ribs. Since I could take a deep breath, I assumed I was OK, but I had some pain if I coughed, sneezed or laughed. My nephew was coming to help me pack up some stuff we needed for the walk, but I decided to go to the ER to see if I had a fracture. There are no words to describe how I felt when the doctor walked in and said “I think you have lung cancer.” I was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in December of 2012.
Once my diagnosis was confirmed, the first person I told about it was my event manager. I was still in a state of shock and not sure about what to do next. It was my event manager who educated me about the right questions to ask and what I needed to know in order to make the best treatment decisions. She asked me what kind of lung cancer I had. I had no idea, nor did I know how important that information was. She advised me that I needed to have my tumor tissue analyzed. It was then that I found out I had a genetic mutation.
I knew I wanted an integrative approach to treating my cancer. I did a lot of research and decided to go to the Block Center. When I first met with Dr. Block, I was still numb from the diagnosis. But I was impressed with the Block Center from the beginning. It’s actually pleasant to be there. It’s wide open, there’s a lot of natural light, and people remember your name. Everybody there is friendly and warm; it’s an atmosphere that you don’t mind being in. I contrast this with what I went through with Mark when he was getting chemo. I sat with him in this dark cubbyhole, it was very depressing. At the Block Center, people are walking around with their chemo because the Center offers chronomodulated chemotherapy (chronotherapy). I think chronotherapy is a wonderful thing, it makes sense to me. Almost all of the patients and their families sit in on the cooking classes, and then we all eat lunch together. It’s a completely different atmosphere than what you’d normally think of when you think of a cancer center. At Block, they treat the whole patient, not just the cancer. When Mark was being treated, I was fighting with doctors to get his vitamin D levels checked, I was worried about how debilitated he was, and I was painfully aware that none of his doctors were doing anything to address it.
Still, as comfortable as I was at the Block Center, I decided to get a second opinion. I just wanted to know all of my options. I then knew for sure that Block was where I needed to be. I believe in their integrative approach, in the diet, supplements, stress care strategies, the atmosphere, the positive energy in the place … I think all of it makes a huge difference.
Today, I am beyond grateful that I am doing so well. I am completely committed to educating people about lung cancer. THIS IS NOT JUST A SMOKER’S DISEASE! There are many other causes of lung cancer. If you breathe, you can get lung cancer. Anyone diagnosed with cancer should be their own advocate. Meaning, get a second opinion. Ask about genetic testing. It ought to be an automatic thing that they test the tumor. Take part in your own recovery. It’s not easy to do when you’re going through the disease, but it’s your body and you have to take care of it. Focus not only on the disease, but what will help your entire body, and your spirit, heal.