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.
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.