I RECENTLY WAS LOOKING at Kindle books and saw a title that resonated with me: “Strong at the Broken Places: Voices of Illness, a Chorus of Hope” by Richard M. Cohen. That is one powerful title.
It inspires me because it describes me: I’m stronger at my broken places. Since my stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis in October 2012, I have learned new skills, participated in activities I never dreamed possible and lived a richer life than I ever did pre-cancer. Before my diagnosis, I owned a small grantwriting business. I wrote newsletters, had a book on CD that taught grant writing and was often given the opportunity to speak to groups. People assumed that because I could write, I could speak to a crowd.
Unfortunately, try as I might, I could not speak publicly, not even to a group of friends. I could talk to a tree informally, but once the presentation was formal, I turned into a quivering bundle of nerves and simply could not share what I knew. I kept trying, and I kept failing. I finally quit trying.
Now my cancer journey has brought new opportunities to speak. Because I want to share my story and my hope so much, I accept. And guess what? Finally, I can stand up in a crowd and talk without becoming a bowl of Jell-O. My story is too important not to share it.
LIVE, LIVE, LIVE YOUR LIFE, NOT YOUR CANCER
My story, like the stories of so many of my friends who share a late-stage diagnosis, is hope. I want everyone who hears those awful words “You have lung cancer” to know that they do not automatically translate into “You are going to die.”
When I first received my diagnosis, my then-oncologist thought I would live about four months. I assumed six months — that’s how long my dad lived after he received the same diagnosis back in the ’70s.
There’s a key word in the paragraph above: “live.” After delivering my prognosis, my oncologist asked, “Do you have any questions?”
“Yes,” I said. “Can I keep running my dogs in agility?” The doctor was dumbfounded and had no idea how to answer. I did want to keep running my dogs in our favorite sport of all time, but what I was really asking him was: “Can I keep living my life even though I have this dire cancer diagnosis?”
The answer is a resounding yes. Yes. Yes!
Every time I do something that I am proud of, I feel like I am thumbing my nose at lung cancer. My dog and I earned a number of major titles after my diagnosis — take that, lung cancer! I’m planning a trip to Israel. Want to guess who my traveling companion will be? It is a friend I met through one of the lung cancer events — someone who also has stage 4 disease. Hope, anyone?
WHAT’S YOUR STORY?
Every lung cancer survivor has their own story to tell. I have shared mine through the Lung Cancer Registry, a place for patients to share their voice and help build a knowledge base for researchers and clinicians so that they can more fully understand how patients walk with the disease.
No one understands it like us. We wake up with it every single day.
Researchers are making incredible advances in the field of lung cancer. Immunotherapy is keeping me alive. I have friends who never even had to go through the horrors of chemotherapy because they were immediately put on targeted therapy drugs. (Genetic testing of your tumors is crucial!) These treatments were unknown just a few years ago.
Grow stronger where the disease may have broken you. Walk in hope.
DONNA FERNANDEZ received a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer in October 2012. Since then, she has made it her mission to spread hope and awareness about this misunderstood disease.