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"There is a cruel judgement that goes with lung cancer which needs to change. It is not just a smoker’s disease."

Tamara was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013, here she shares her story for Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

I think any cancer diagnosis is a horrific experience and we all ask ourselves, why me? But without question this is compounded for lung cancer patients. I experienced a crushing feeling of isolation after being diagnosed with lung cancer. The stigma of lung cancer is an additional burden to an already traumatic situation. I don’t care whether you smoked or not, we are all subject to human frailties and we all deserve compassion.

I was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013 when my three boys were 5, 3 and my baby son was 5 months old. I was also diagnosed with secondary tumours in my spine, hip bone, liver, adrenal glands and my brain. The first few months were a blur. I functioned on the outside but the screaming never stopped on the inside. How could this happen to me? I was so happy and healthy and I had never smoked. It took me a long, long time and a lot of anger to come to grips with the fact, if you have lungs, you can get lung cancer.
I later discovered through genetic testing that I was ALK positive, which meant my cancer was the result of an acquired genetic mutation.

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Tamara with her sons. Image: Supplied.

This discovery and the great work by my oncologist allowed me to go straight onto a genetically targeted treatment, which worked very effectively. Unfortunately, this treatment did not work on my brain tumours so I underwent targeted and whole head radiation.  Due to complications I succumbed to consecutive bouts of pneumonia which involved 7 weeks in hospital and brought me close to death on two occasions. I held my three young sons little hands in mine and with my eyes tried to convey a life’s worth of love, knowing it would never be enough. But it wasn’t my time and I woke, I learned to breathe again, walk again, to get well again, all with the knowledge that I still had a life threatening disease. It was tough.

Since then I’ve changed to another targeted treatment after the cancer returned to my hip. I had another round of targeted radiation on my brain.

I’m still here and moment by moment my life and the people in my life are truly precious.

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Tamara during treatment. Image: Supplied.
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My husband and my children are my life force. My family and friends have created a supportive and loving environment for me. I have had to learn to nourish, support and value my own life. I do not believe I can cure my cancer, but I do believe I can make every second of my wonderful life count and that involves doing those complementary things that contribute to my health and wellbeing.

Through it all, in everything I read, I couldn’t see where I fitted in. I had none of the risk factors and none of the symptoms. But I knew I shared the same bleak outlook as anyone diagnosed with lung cancer; a 14% five year survival rate is a shattering statistic.

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Tamara is still not sure why she was affected by the disease. Image: Supplied.

There is a cruel judgement that goes with lung cancer which needs to change. It is not just a smoker’s disease.

Lung cancer patients deserve better. Only 5 per cent of tumour specific funds are directed to lung cancer research. We need more funding for lung cancer research to help find better treatments and help save lives and give people like me more options to live longer.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and you can help Shine A Light on lung cancer. Find out more at www.lungcancernetwork.com.au or find Lung Foundation Australia on Facebook or Twitter @lungcancernetworkaustralia @lungfoundation.

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