A young lung cancer patient's story and the start of accepting her new normal.
Kim is currently surviving stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer. As a veterinary oncologist, she writes from two perspectives: as someone knowledgeable about the world of oncology medicine and as a thriving cancer patient reimagining her life. Kim hopes to help others by writing and sharing her story as she “re-purposes her purpose.” She lives in Denver with her husband, three dogs, cat and seven chickens.
'Goal-motivated' is an understatement when speaking of my previous life. If the day wasn’t jammed packed with things to accomplish, I must have been having one of those 'lazy' days. In the winter of 2013, I ran yet another half marathon — in my personal best time. I wanted to get this race under my belt as my husband and I were planning our first child.
Timing was on my side.
Upon completing residency training, my husband and I moved to the exact location we wanted to live and were having a baby in just two short months of trying … geez, could this be any more perfect? Timing was definitely on our side! When planning for the birth of a child, often times, mothers-to-be will have a birth plan. At that time, I adapted the lack-of-a-plan plan. This was the first time in my life I’d adapt to such a 'loosey-goosey' mentality. As a first time mom, how would I know what I really needed? I did my research, however the lack-of-a-plan plan eased my anxiety — simply because the end result was a healthy baby boy. I was not going to subscribe to beating myself up if the plan was altered. The months flew by — nausea sailed, but I was happy. I could handle the nausea, but the fatigue was unsettling. I began to pant when walking. I continued to “nest” — collecting baby necessities and researching all things baby. I was amazed by child development. I would say to my husband, “did you know that the baby kidney’s are actually making urine already?” Wow! I was amazed. My husband candidly says back to me each time I was astonished, “you’re a medically trained individual. How is this new to you?” It’s new to me because it’s part of me! Yes, I’ve memorized the gestation periods of the five major species for my veterinarian boards, but humans were excluded!
I was in awe of the human body … of my human body.
I felt an enlarged lymph node along my collarbone. I discussed the lymph node with my OB/GYN as well as my morbid fatigue. Though he had a stethoscope draped around his neck and despite my compliant of shortness of breath, he did not auscultate my chest. An ultrasound of my neck was ordered. That got me thinking: I can ultrasound my neck. I've performed ultrasounds on dogs and cats at work to stage their cancer. I did it at the end of the following workday in a dark room by myself and I knew it the second the ultrasound probe touched my neck. I could see them: Not just one lymph node — NINE! Nine enlarged lymph nodes with all of the characteristics of malignant (cancer) lymph nodes.
I have cancer!
Over the next few days, I continued to work. Every step and breath required tons of effort. This sharp decline in health resulted in me presenting to the emergency room. A CT scan revealed pleural effusion (chest fluid), many lymph nodes and multiple lung nodules (tumors). The overnight doctor said that I likely had a bad infection or possibly cancer. It was bad all right, but I knew it was not an infection. “I saw those nasty looking lymph nodes with my own eyes,” I said to myself. I didn’t want to upset my husband. If thinking I had an infection rather than cancer would allow the love of my life to sleep better for one more night … so let it.
As I lay in a hospital bed for seventeen days, my life went into a tailspin. It was not a bad infection. I had stage IV non-small cell lung cancer. Lung cancer – what?! How could my body grow a baby and cancer simultaneously? It was not curable, spread throughout all lung lobes, the pleura (lining of my chest), my diaphragm and right femur bone. It presented as barely manageable for a few years. I had envisioned a movie in my head while not sleeping in the hospital. I would have this baby soon and pass away, leaving my husband with our son — our legacy. He will forever have a part of me, as well as a fishing companion. The Hallmark Channel movie in my mind did not play out. It was said that if we continued with the pregnancy neither our baby boy nor I would do well.
Time was of the essence and certainly not on my side anymore.
As I approach two years since the story above began, I am on a mission to repurpose my purpose. I am receiving my 4th line of cancer treatment living with continued cancer growth. My clinical status no longer allows me to practice medicine in an active sense. I do not nurture a baby boy. He is our guardian above and running is just that, “a past time”. I am constantly living in this lack-of-a-plan plan and it challenges me every day. I have found that once I face my new normal, though indebted to my previous life — I can live for my future.