When I mention to strangers that I have stage 4 incurable lung cancer, I can see the pity in their eyes. I mostly mention it to let them know that anyone with lungs can get lung cancer, because I know the first question they will ask is “Did you smoke?” to which I reply “no.”
I know this question makes a lot of people angry. I used to get angry when asked — that is, until I came to realize that it’s not the asker’s fault. I would have asked the same thing before I actually got lung cancer. Society often teaches us that the only way you can get lung cancer is from smoking. This isn’t true. There are so many contributing factors that people are unaware of, such as radon, air pollution, genetics and just good old-fashioned bad luck.
But in any case, no one deserves lung cancer. Most of us have bad habits, but I’ve seen some of the healthiest people I know acquire lung cancer and pass away from it. This month marks seven years that I’ve been living with it. I received my diagnosis less than a month after my 33rd birthday, during lung cancer awareness month. I wasn’t even aware it had its own month.
In the beginning, I had no hope and no faith. I felt helpless. I no longer had control over my body. I was told I had 12 to 18 months to live. Being the single mom of a 7-year-old little girl didn’t help with my depression. I quickly got on antidepressants. There is no shame in that; I had to be strong for my girl.
It’s now been seven years since that fateful day when I learned my life would never be the same. I’ve come a long way in personal growth and have learned that sometimes the best of God’s blessings can come from the worst of circumstances.
First, my appreciation for life was renewed. I had a second chance, and I could choose to be a better person. Before cancer, I was a workaholic. I never stopped to smell the roses, walk the beach at sunset, watch my daughter and her friends just be kids, and teach her so much by being able to be home with her. All the smells, the sounds, the beauty of this life I now appreciated.
Since the diagnosis, my child has become very empathetic of others, an advocate for lung cancer, and gave her life to Christ at the age of 8. We didn’t push her; the faith just bloomed. I love her more than anything in this world, and I couldn’t be more proud of the 14-year-old freshman she is now.
I’ve also made some incredible friends from all over the world through the lung cancer community. We are united in a hunger and new appreciation for a life that most take for granted. Yes, I’ve lost many of those friends. And yes, it hurts when I do, but that’s how I know I truly loved them and will see them again one day. No one can be replaced when they are a part of your heart.
Let me just say that getting lung cancer at such a young age was a humbling experience. I was so self-centered and uncaring before. I was cutthroat at my job. I’m happy to say I’m not that way anymore. I once was blind, but now I see.
I see that we have this one life, one chance to make a difference in others and maybe make this world a better place. Evil didn’t win. Cancer hasn’t won and will never win because I already have. I wouldn’t take it back for a second. This is my life and this is my purpose — helping others.