The people who have generously shared their stories here hail from all walks of life. These inspiring people have been touched by lung cancer, and their recollections are full of hope and survival, even amidst hardship and loss.
Young and old, men and women, survivors and those who lost loved ones – one common theme runs through the hearts of these stories: hope for a better future and a determination to make a difference for all those affected by lung cancer.
The Lung Cancer Initiative provides these stories of North Carolinians against lung cancer as a source of comfort and solidarity for all those who have been touched by this disease.
To share your own story, email Megan Snowdowne.
Tomma Hargraves – “In November of 2006, I was diagnosed with Stage 3B non small cell lung cancer. I was stunned… I had no symptoms except for a small lump in my neck which turned out to be a cancerous lymph node… and the journey began. Thank goodness for a primary care doctor who didn’t ignore that node… and thank goodness for living in an area of North Carolina with superb lung cancer specialists. "
Cindy D'Ottavio - "On Halloween of 2017, my younger sister Lori was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. Lori also had pneumonia, so when I started feeling chest congestion I went to the doctor right away as I have had pneumonia twice before. After two unsuccessful rounds of antibiotics my doctor ordered an x-ray and I received even more bad news. After burying my sister just 6 days before, I had to call my parents and tell them that I was also diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. This was just devastating news and crushed them."
Ginny Cake - "Stage IV Non-small cell Lung Cancer? You could have knocked me over with a feather when I was diagnosed. I was only 58, a non-smoker, VERY active and the picture of health. I did not have the usual symptoms, only a pain in the middle of my back that would not go away. After a visit to my Primary Care Physician and a chest X-ray, my whole world changed dramatically."
Gwen Orilio - "In September of 2014, I was a young mother of a 1 year old little girl. I went in for a routine eye exam and the eye doctor discovered a spot on my eye she wanted me to have checked out. The surgery confirmed my biggest fear: cancer. How could I have stage IV lung cancer? I was 31 years old, I was a member of my college track team, and I had NEVER smoked anything; never even tried anything."
Mary Frances White - "In the Fall of 2011, I had completed my yearly physical, blood work, and mammogram and thought everything was fine. When I returned a month later for my flu shot, my primary care doctor asked the familiar question- “Is there anything else going on?” Jokingly I replied “Well I am losing weight but I guess that’s not a bad thing, right?”
Shirley Sulick - "I am a 74-year-old retired woman who served our government for 28 years! Some of those years were in a country that had a line of soot that blanketed the sky. In another country, the host government beamed microwaves at me in an effort to pick up my conversations. To add insult to injury, I smoked! I own it all, so when I arrived in Wake Forest, NC and received a magazine from Duke University called "Focus" advertising lung cancer screening I jumped on it right away."
Paige Black - "My name is Paige Black. I am 48 years old. My husband’s name is Jason and we have a 14- year-old daughter, Allison. I was diagnosed in April 2017 with Stage 4 lung cancer (adenocarcinoma)."
Mike Smith - "I began experiencing severe chest pain in July 2016 resulting in awakening in the middle of the night with what was thought to be a heart attack. After subsequent trips and changing primary care physicians, a simple chest x-ray and review of my medical history indicated something else."
Krista Reynolds - "One can’t imagine or capture the thoughts that go through your mind when you are 30 years old, the oldest sister of four women who rely on you to be their rock and their protector when the woman who means the most to all of you has a severe medical disease that you don’t understand at the time."
Jayne Scarborough - "From the beginning I said that I was going to beat this despite the statistics, and I’m continuing to believe this with the help of my excellent medical care team, my faith, my family, and my friends."
Glenda Mayo - "For me, what helped was to surround myself with positive and happy people and to make an effort to enjoy the small things each day that made me happy."
Cissy Carroll - "In October 2015, I had a four-month old son Jackson who kept me on my toes and didn't sleep well. When I began having horrible headaches and began to experience vertigo, which I had never had before, I decided I needed to see a doctor."
Caroline Wrisley - "In February 2017, I was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer. I promise I was the last person you would have thought to develop this disease. I've since learned that lung cancer does not discriminate.
Phuong Huynh - "I remind myself of this quote by Maya Angelou that I saw at the YMCA every day, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude”.
Terri Conneran – " By surviving the lung cancer battle, learning the truths of the disease, advocacy has chosen me. It is because I am a blessed exception that I have to speak up to help the many that cannot speak for themselves."
Susan Whaley – " I truly believe my situation is one that can bring hope to others, and I want to share and help in any way that I can to bring awareness and promise. Through everyone’s efforts we will find a cure."
Doris Castevens – " I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer despite having no known risk factors. I’ve learned a lot since diagnosis and want everyone to know that anyone can get lung cancer."
Angie Madigan – " I am but one voice and am making it my mission to raise awareness. Ultimately, funding for R&D is the primary driver to save lives"
Kelly Keesling – "Fortunately, I still have a lot of options because I am healthy (besides the lung cancer thing, of course lol). I am still young (relatively speaking), I am stubborn and a fighter, I am also positive, have faith, and have the best group of supporters and encouragers EVER."
Natalie Perkins Holden – "I pretend like I am a normal person but I am not like everyone else and I know I am not. I was diagnosed with ROS1 lung cancer in August of 2015."
Ashely Corn – "There are so many things in our life that we take for granted and as cliché as it is- you never truly know what you have until it’s gone."
Kim Jones – "I was actually dignosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, which meant it actually spread to other locations."
Justin Brian Nicholson – Meet Justin Brian Nicholson and his family, and hear his story of hope in the fight against lung cancer.
Shirley Billingsley – “My journey with cancer is not a textbook case. When I was first diagnosed, I had a 7% chance to live the first year… I am truly a miracle.”
Shannon Butterworth-Blankenship – “For us we chose to focus on the good days and the great memories, even though the hard days are still there”
Eva Fisher - "Even deep in the battle of the cruel and relentless onslaught of stage IV lung cancer, my mom showed me what true fighters are made of."
The Goodson Family - "Dad, I'm sorry you're having a bad day." "It's okay. I've had a good life."
Nancy Grinstead – “The next day I got the call. I was to go to the hospital at once for a CT scan. Diagnosis: Small cell lung cancer, Stage 1.”
Rosemary Haney - "I am alive to talk about these issues; therefore I must. I have found that I am so passionate about the lung cancer movement that I feel empowered just by talking about it."
Gilbert Hensgen – “I will not be running the race on Saturday but I will be there, and I will walk. I will not beat my son's time but I will finish the race.”
Susan C. Hicks – “Mom said that she had cancer to survive and help others. Our Mom’s spirit is what drives our family to continue this fight against lung cancer, and for this we survive for her.”
Heather Hooper - “I knew I had to make a difference, not only for lung cancer patients like my father, but for their daughters too.”
Mary Willaims-Kotnik – Sara's Story - "Her legacy to me is her example of unwavering trust in God, love of others, and resilient spirit. It is in her memory that I continue this fight against lung cancer.”
Jenner Lee - "My story has been a happy journey so far....but that is not true for everyone diagnosed with lung cancer."
Megan Lucovsky – “Pawpaw never let his diagnosis define him; he kept living life to the fullest.”
Mike McKay – “‘It all happened so fast,’ said, Mike, Jill’s sweetheart since the sixth grade. ‘She didn't even have the chance to respond to treatment.’”
Harold Morrow – “Harold began his battle after being diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. He was told he had only six months. But Harold fought with determination and the tenacity to live.”
Anna Orsenigo - "My father was a wonderful man who defined happiness as being with family."
Caroline Quinn - "When I mentioned the race to the kids at breakfast, Lillie immediately spoke up: 'Mommy, we have to do that, so not one more little girl loses her daddy to lung cancer.'"
Kathi Roberts – “God has given me six more years, and I am thankful for every day.”
Sarah Rossini – "Through it all, she never showed her pain to my brother or me. She was the most courageous, outstanding, strong, and loving person I have ever met."
Steve Shakal – “Saying Steve Shakal has been through a lot would be an understatement.”
Laura Simpson – “My mom always taught me to never give up.”
Di'Ann Smith - "We [survivors] share our experience, strength and hope. We know exactly what others are going through or have been through."
Ann Staples - "It makes me so sad that my mother didn’t get to see her grandchildren grow up… but I believe she’d be thrilled that I am trying to draw attention and raise funds for lung cancer prevention and treatment.”
Khaki Stelten – "When I got the chance to work here, it felt like far more than just a job opportunity. It felt like a calling – like I could make a difference."
Melissa Tanner - "For me, it is especially important to spread awareness that non-smokers can get lung cancer too: this is my dad’s story."
Diane Trump - "The Breathe for Diane team is new in name this year, but has been active for two years and is in support of Diane Trump who has been fighting both lung cancer and breast cancer."
Misty Valjevac - "I have since gotten married and have my own child and I now understand the love and fight my mom had in her."
Ann Wall - “If I can get them to listen, if I can help others avoid what I’m going through,” she said, “then my life with this disease will have been worthwhile.”
Jerry Walton - "I’m proof that lung cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence. With earlier detection and proper treatment, survivors can lead a “new normal” life - and even run a marathon!"
Nancy Wood - “Thom used to say ‘Yes, I smoked but I don’t deserve to die because of a bad habit.’”