I Refused to Let My Stage 4 Cancer Be a Death Sentence

When doctors told me that there was no more they could do for my stage 4 lung cancer, I refused to believe them, and wish other patients did the same.

I’m a former stage 4 patient with lung cancer, now going on two years cancer-free. Cancer blew in, demolished my life and my body, and left before the year was out, leaving me traumatized and elated as I entered 2020’s COVID-19 isolation.

In 2019, I went from being fine, to receiving a cancer diagnosis, to a free fall into stage 4 lung cancer, to a further fall into a coma from a hypoxia state. I was a 46-year-old woman who, in five months, lost her ability to walk, to talk, to eat and weighed a scant 60 pounds.

Doctors reported to my family that my case was “grim” and “hopeless.” But the invisibility created by being vented on a trach meant that no one told me that, so I believed I was on the mend. In the haste, my brain never caught up to my illness. Fight to live.

So, I removed myself from the intensive care unit that I’d been in for 25 days when I learned they’d begun palliative-only treatments.

“We aren’t allowed to try to heal you now,” I was told as if it was the weather report, as my treatment plan was erased in front of me. No further plan was written in its place.

All that had changed, leading to everyone giving up, was the finding of cancerous nodules in my small intestine. I thought of ways to run away with no legs, and in the end wrote: Hospice. It’s the only way I could see I had a chance to live.

Six days after arriving, I “ran away” from hospice. When I said I refused to die, I emotionally devastated my family who already had a difficult time accepting my death. Pity met my eyes and I met it with defiance.

It’s rare that I do as I’m told, and this was no different to me. This belligerent attitude coupled with begging convinced my wary husband to pack me into the car six days after entering hospice to travel an hour away from better medical facilities to the one that had my original oncologist. I thought she was my one chance. She would listen.

In the hospital, a resident made rounds talking of this new immunotherapy. I was on so many drugs that my ears heard her say, “If you take this, it will cure you.” It became an obsession for me. No one thought I’d survive 30 days post-op.

Upon miraculously making it to see my oncologist, I begged for immunotherapy, but she refused. I was a week past my “two weeks left” I was given when I left the hospital. It took 45 minutes for her to agree, my husband the only thing keeping me from tumbling out of a wheelchair as I pleaded.

It took three months for me to get the scan that said the cancer was defeated. That was December 2019. In a year, I lived, I died, I returned cancer free. I refused three of six treatments.

Now, I try to advocate because for three years, I studied what happened. I’ve been able to speak to some of the most successful oncologists in the field and study new treatments.

I’m proud to say I know my stuff, and I see a lot of mistakes made with patients. I see how treating people as stage 4 is detrimental. Antiquated. Palliative only, unable to be cured. It’s no longer the case.

I hope one day more patients become their own advocates, and research as I did to save their lives. The tracks of cancer are rutted from taking the same path for so many years, but it’s time to permanently take it off course.

Until then, I’m kind of the lost advocate. The cancer community is wary of me, and those in traditional remission are confused by me. I’m not supposed to be here.

I’ve gotten a lot of attention for being miraculous, but it wasn’t a miracle — it was science. It’s lonely. I lost all my cancer pals on the way here, and now I have an inbox of global strangers begging for help. For now, helping is my purpose. For me, that means some people love you, but more people do not.

But there’s a choice in being an advocate — do I want to make friends, or do I want to try to save lives. Easy question.

This article was written and sent in by Gina Mancini Horan, a lung cancer survivor.

This article reflects the views of Gina Mancini Horan and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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