Thursday, June 22, 2017 was a lovely, sunny afternoon. I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary when my doctor called with the results of tests for a persistent cough I’d had for weeks. I thought it might take another round of antibiotics. My doctor told me I had stage IV non-small-cell lung cancer.
My first response was “How could that be? I don’t even smoke!”
My second thought was for my three young daughters. I thought my life was over and the thing that hurt the most was when I looked into their eyes of my. Of everything I’ve been through these past months, the most upsetting is the thought of my daughters without a mother. I pray to God every day to give me the chance to see them grow up.
This experience taught me: if you have lungs, you can get lung cancer.
My story is also about listening to your intuition. A month before my diagnosis, I started experiencing a persistent pain in my shoulder and a light cough. I went to a nearby urgent care facility for a consultation and pain medication. The doctor on call ordered an x-ray, and decided I had pneumonia that would take a few weeks to go away. I was given antibiotics, but as the days passed, the cough worsened.
After 3 weeks of persistent coughing and continued pain, I made an appointment with a pulmonologist, who ordered another x-ray. The results showed no improvement, and the pulmonologist assured me that I just had a “bad infection,” and that the antibiotics should take care of it. When the cough and pain got worse, he then ordered a CT scan of my chest. I was alarmed and concerned with the discovery of some cysts in my right lung, lymph nodes and lesions in my bones.
I asked my doctor about this, and he said it was just part of the infection, but my gut told me otherwise.
On June 20th, I had a bronchoscopy. Two days later, my pulmonologist called me before he left on vacation to give me the devastating diagnosis of lung cancer.
The next two weeks were the most difficult of my life: going from thinking that I had pneumonia to learning that I had stage IV lung cancer.
Within a few weeks of diagnosis, doctors performed a genomic test and discovered that I have the ALK (anaplastic lymphoma kinase) mutation. We discussed options, and the benefits of currently available treatments. I am now taking Alectanib, a targeted medication, that has helped prevent my cancer from spreading and has even reduced some of the tumors. It has been a miracle and I am extremely grateful to modern medicine.
It has been a very challenging time, but today I am a stronger person. I am grateful to God, my loving and supportive husband, my family, my community, my friends, and my co-workers for all the love, strength, and prayers they give me. This experience has taught me that there are many more good people in the world than I thought.
The outpouring of support I’ve received has helped me realize that I am not alone. I have met others like me, living with the ALK mutation: mothers, fathers, daughters; all non-smokers sharing the same symptoms and feelings as me, sharing their stories, and most importantly, not giving up.
Diane Mulligan, APR