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I'm not dead yet!


A few years ago, I saw Monty Python's Spamalot, the stage musical version of the 1975 comedy film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. At the souvenir stand, I could not resist the T-shirt with the words, "I'm not dead yet." I wore it a few times, and eventually it worked its way to the bottom of the pile in the closet and was forgotten. Little did I realize then just how much that phrase would come to mean this year. In March, I went for a routine checkup and, as a longtime smoker, I agreed with the doctor that a chest X-ray should be done. Long story short, I was diagnosed with stage 2B non-small cell lung cancer in April. Actually, I was diagnosed with lung cancer; staging was done at the cancer center I went to 10 days later.I chose to dive into learning all I could about lung cancer during those 10 days between appointments. It is amazing how little hope there is on the Internet. I soon came to realize that the one phrase that seemed to be missing from all of the articles I read was "if found early." "If found early" is a phrase that is pounded into our heads in all of the cancer awareness commercials.That same lack of hope started to appear on the faces of family and friends as I broke the news to them. Each of them had a personal link to a sad story about lung cancer. They all came up with a "if you need anything" or "my prayers are with you." Very few said anything like "you can beat this" during that first conversation. Thank goodness I have a longtime friend who not only beat lung cancer, but he did so nearly 10 years ago! This knowledge, along with his constant encouragement, gave me the strength to scream, "I'm not dead yet!" every time I read an article or saw someone trying to hide a tear when they saw me. OK, I didn't really scream it at people, but I did point to the phrase on that T-shirt. I wore that shirt two or three times per week as I went through two rounds of two chemo meds, 28 days of radiation and the weeks between the end of treatment and surgery. I lost a lot of hair and got dark circles under my eyes. I was very tired most days. Instead of letting myself get worked up while waiting for all the pre-op tests, I took a trip to Maine and Canada to do and see things I had never experienced before. In August I had extensive surgery to remove the lobe of the lung the tumor was in, as well as a few ribs and parts of some vertebrae that the tumor had been touching. While I spent a week in the hospital recovering, when I could get online, my status updates always included the phrase, "I'm not dead yet." My surgeons told me that the surgery went well and they would see me in two weeks. Recovery was very long and painful, but that phrase became my mantra, and I kept chugging along.I'm not dead yet! And I don't plan to be for a very long time! At my post-op appointments I was told that I had a "complete pathologic response," which means that the cancer had been completely killed even before the surgery. Here I was, less than five months later, being told I was cancer-free.Lung cancer is not a death sentence. I know this, because: I'm not dead yet!Mary Tracy-Dolobowsky is a mother, wife, biker, nature/wildlife photographer, two-time cancer slayer (melanoma & lung) and lung cancer awareness blabber-mouth.

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