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?”
Her response took my breath. After looking back at my records, she found I had lost about 10 lbs. in six months. She said “As a doctor my first thought with unintentional weight loss is possible cancer. Let’s do a CT scan just to be safe.’’
Despite having never smoked and no family history, I found myself facing the realization I had stage IIIA lung cancer. As I was going through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation I kept asking myself - how did this happen? And what comes next?
One of my first questions to my oncologist was for information on support groups. I wanted to find someone like me. Someone who could say “I know what you are talking about” and really mean it. My concerns ran the gambit - from how do deal with lack of appetite, nausea, pain, dizziness, weakness, lack of energy, skin irritation, depression, insomnia, neuropathy, thinning hair, clothes not fitting, etc.
With my husband working out of town, no children, and both of our families 4 to 5 hours away- I just thought my organizational skills and pre-planning would take care of everything. I thought I could manage. Everyone kept remarking how well I was dealing with my diagnosis.
But the day I was sitting alone on my couch trying to force myself to eat a fourth of a sandwich and suddenly started laughing uncontrollably and then just as suddenly began to cry I realized I was not okay. I needed help. And not just help with cooking, cleaning, laundry, groceries- all which my wonderful husband, friends, and neighbors provided. But I needed emotional help.
I wanted someone who could relate; someone who was as comfortable joking about cancer as crying about it; someone who didn’t look at me with sympathy but as a comrade in the same fight.
Eventually I found a few fellow lung cancer survivors and we still meet once a month. I find talking with fellow survivors to be comforting to me as well as to them. Whether for just socializing or for organized advocacy, it draws us together and unites us in a common cause.
Mary Frances White