Knowledge is Power: A Cancer Patient Navigates Her Diagnosis

The first few weeks following a cancer diagnosis can be the most challenging.
PUBLISHED December 01, 2014
Tori Tomalia is a two-time cancer survivor currently living with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer since May of 2013. Her first cancer experience was childhood osteogenic sarcoma, for which she received chemotherapy and curative surgery, and had been cancer-free for over 20 years prior to the lung cancer diagnosis. Along with cancer, Tori juggles life as a mom of 3 small children, a wife, a theatre artist, writer and lung cancer awareness advocate.
Knowledge is power.
This belief has driven how I respond to stressful situations throughout my life.
When I was pregnant with our first child I took every class I could find, read stacks of books, and watched many hours of birth videos (thanks to my midwife sister).
I focused. I studied. I prepared.
When I found out that our second pregnancy was twins, I read books and asked questions of every twin I knew. As the pregnancy progressed and took a complicated turn, we were told that the girls may be born severely premature and if they survived they would face a lifetime of challenges. In response, I started reading about raising children with special needs. I subscribed to blogs written by some amazing families with special children. I got ready for every possible scenario.
I focused. I studied. I prepared.
When I was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer, I dove into the research and tried to learn everything I could about this disease.
Actually, that's not quite true.
For the first few weeks I was in a fog of confusion, denial, shock. In those early days I felt completely frozen. It was as though there was an avalanche of emotion waiting to engulf me, and any wrong move could set it off. I couldn't even listen to music, because the feeling of the notes caused the ground around me to vibrate and I knew if it shook too hard the walls would collapse and I would be crushed under the weight of my reality.
For the first few weeks I actively avoided reading anything about lung cancer. I knew enough to understand how dire my situation was. I couldn't face seeing it in black and white.
I had to absorb the news in tiny droplets, taking in a little bit more every day. Drop by drop, I started to accept it. As the weeks went on, I started to face my diagnosis. My coping mechanism for tough situations had always been to seek out knowledge and turn to information for comfort.
I took a deep breath and started reading.
And what I read was scary. The stats were bleak, and they were staring back at me unblinking from the page.
I knew that I had non-small cell lung cancer.
I knew that I was only 37 years old.
I knew that I had three kids under the age of 5.
I knew that I may not be around to see them grow up.
I knew that it had spread from my left lung to my ribs, my spine, my hip, and my liver.
I knew that there was no cure.
I knew that I had a really rough road ahead of me.
I knew that I was ready to take the first step on that path.
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