Assumptions After a Lung Cancer Diagnosis


All my life, I've been told that smoking leads to lung cancer. I never smoked, but I still got lung cancer.

Illustration of a woman with shoulder-length hair and round glasses.

After completing treatment for lung cancer and being told that I was in remission in 2020, I thought about how unique the respective journeys of patients with cancer could be. However, having never smoked, a lung cancer diagnosis was an unlikely, but common experience for many of us.

I wondered about the emotional understanding of a lung cancer diagnosis, even before considering the medical implications. Why me? I never smoked. It isn’t fair. They had been saying all my life, “If you smoke cigarettes, you will get lung cancer.” Well, I didn’t smoke, but I did get lung cancer.

In addition to cigarette smoking, second-hand smoke, air pollution, exposure to radon, asbestos and other chemicals, as well as random events are all causes of lung cancer. Also, my brief internet search yielded another immensely important fact: there is a significantly higher survival rate among non-smokers than among smokers.

Before my generation, there had already been a history of breast cancer in my family. I was in the fourth generation of women on the maternal side of my family diagnosed. Despite the fact that my breast cancer was diagnosed at an early stage, I opted to have a bilateral mastectomy, so that I would, “lead a long life and die of something other than cancer.” Yes, those were my exact words!

It had never crossed my mind that I would be stricken by a cancer other than of the breast.

Three years later, issues with balance and numbness on the left side of my body led my PCP to prescribe an MRI of my brain. The MRI resulted in the diagnosis of a precancerous condition in the lining of my brain, a meningioma. I needed to have the brain tumor removed. Cancer or not, any brain surgery is just brain surgery.

My breast cancer journey had resulted in four surgeries: a surgical biopsy, the mastectomy, then two more surgeries to remove and replace a damaged implant. The brain surgery then made for the fifth.

So, when I was diagnosed with lung cancer, I initially felt little or no anxiety. I was referred to a thoracic surgeon, who suggested that my cancer could be cured with the removal of the tumors in each of my lungs, followed by five years of CT scans of my lungs, at six-month intervals. I was pleasantly surprised, was recovery from lung cancer that simple?

At that point, I knew that I could handle cancer, removed surgically. I’d had a double mastectomy as well as having my brain sawed open to remove a tumor, the size of a golf ball.

There was ultimately, however, a difference between early-stage breast cancer and meningioma, and lung cancer.

Lung cancer is the deadliest of cancers. More men and women die of lung cancer. My chance of survival was 30%. It wasn’t as easy as I had hoped.I had the two surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation treatment and immunotherapy. Two years of treatment! But in June of 2023, I reached the five-year mark and am now officially cured of lung cancer!

And it certainly was in my favor that I had never smoked!

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.

Related Videos
Image of Dr. Minesh Mehta at ASCO 2024.
Image of a man with rectangular glasses and short dark hair.
Image of a woman with long dark hair.
Image of Kristen Dahlgren at Extraordinary Healer.
Image of a woman with short blonde hair wearing a white blazer.
Image of a woman with black hair.