Living with Lung Cancer: Silver Linings


I have stage 4 lung cancer and told I had 12-18 months to live. Little did I know they sent a biopsy off for genome testing which has given me six years so far. My life is incredibly imperfect, but I love every single minute of it.

I received a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer less than a month after turning 33. I was misdiagnosed for nearly a year. I actually told a co-worker in October, "I'm dying," and I meant it. Of course, he rolled his eyes and said, "You're not dying." But I was.

Once Christmas 2012 was upon us, I wanted to get my shopping out of the way early because I felt so bad. My headaches had gotten so much worse. I went to doctor after doctor only to be told it was my sinuses. I spent so much money on useless medications and equipment.

As I was leaving one of the stores, in my car at a green light, I totally lost my vision. I saw swirly colors and that was it. I knew where I was, so I went straight and blindly hit a curb before resting in a parking lot. Luckily, I didn't hit anyone or anything.

I stayed put until I could see again. I couldn't find my phone and it wasn't a great area. I made it home and was taken to the ER the next day. They diagnosed me with migraines and gave me so much pain medication. I was taking it every three hours and going to be sent to an ENT (an ear, nose and throat specialist) as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Thanksgiving came and I went to visit my parents on the outskirts of Atlanta. The same things began happening and my mother took me to a local hospital where they were savvy enough to do a CT scan of my brain. When the ER doctor came back in the room, she told me I had a tumor and was being transferred to downtown Atlanta, where a neurosurgeon was on standby.

I had to say goodbye to my daughter. She was only seven and I was in fear I may not wake up. I'm a single mom, which made this task all the harder. She screamed trying to get in the ambulance with me. They gave me medication to put me to sleep but I will never forget the screams and look on her face.

I was told the tumor came from my lung. I had stage 4 lung cancer and from what they could tell, I had approximately 12-18 months to live given the information they knew. Little did I know they sent a biopsy off for genome testing which has given me six years so far.

At the time, I was unaware and when I got to go home, my daughter's father and I sat her down and explained the situation. I don't make promises I can't keep. I told her I couldn't promise her I wouldn’t die, but I did promise to fight until I could fight no more. She is my world.

Armed with this information, I decided to make what is left of the time I have unforgettable. I took my daughter to Washington D.C. and New York over Christmas, Chicago and Disney World. I was no longer working my stressful job as the managing director at a luxury hotel and restaurant. I was on disability with limited funds and room on my credit cards. After all, you don't see a U-haul or debt collectors following a hearse.

I actually got married and went to London and Paris. We divorced in less than two years but have remained friends. I had to file bankruptcy in December 2017. Married, divorced, bankrupt and I wouldn’t change a thing. Cancer changed and humbled me. I stop to smell the roses. I live life on my terms. And my terms are to be there as long as I can with my daughter.

I just surpassed six years with no active cancer. I see my daughter more than had I continued to work. She was baptized at eight and we talk about heaven. This calms her fears, knowing she will be with me again.

I'm still on my first-line treatment after six years because I had one of the mutations that allowed me to take targeted therapy. My life is incredibly imperfect, but I love every single minute of it. I looked death in the face and realized I wanted to live.

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Image of Dr. Minesh Mehta at ASCO 2024.