I don’t know why I am so susceptible to developing lung cancer. Since 2014, I have been diagnosed with both non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer, each occurring in my right lung. I have also been diagnosed with precancerous colon polyps, which necessitated invasive surgery. But my main health concern continues to be lung cancer.
Eight years ago, a persistent cough sent me to repeat visits with my primary care physician to determine the problem—but to no avail. After I made several requests for a computerized tomography (CT) scan, the doctor ordered the test, which showed a large tumor on the lower lobe of my right lung. A tissue biopsy determined it was NSCLC. Fortunately, the cancer was contained within my lung, and the only treatment I needed was surgery. I wouldn’t be so lucky with my next bout of lung cancer.
“Cancer has taught me many lessons, including not taking anything for granted. It has also taught me patience.”— Dorothy Turner
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In 2019, I was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer, but this time, the treatment was so grueling, it left me weak and homebound. I was prescribed 30 rounds of radiation therapy over 15 days, but that wasn’t the worst of it. I was so fatigued from the chemotherapy, it was an effort to get from the couch to my bed. Attempting the simplest errands like going to the grocery store overwhelmed me. And I had such violent episodes of nausea and vomiting, which further confined me to my home; I lost 60 pounds.
Getting on With My Life
As I watched both my physical body and my outside world grow smaller and smaller, I was convinced I was going to die. Therefore, I was elated when my follow-up CT scans showed no signs of cancer. The treatment had been successful. However, my happiness was short-lived. A few months later, the cancer recurred, and I knew I could not go through the therapy again. I told my oncologist I would rather die than continue the same treatment regimen.
I got lucky. My oncologist was able to treat me with a combination of the immunotherapy atezolizumab, plus carboplatin and etoposide; he later added trilaciclib, which had recently been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for patients with extensive-stage small cell lung cancer to protect bone marrow function.1 The combination therapy has changed my life. I’m able to tolerate it well; although I still get tired when I go to the grocery store, at least I’m now able to get out of the house and go to the grocery store.
Recently, I learned the cancer has metastasized to my liver, which means more radiation and chemotherapy—but less than I had before. So far, the therapy is not as debilitating as the original treatment, and I am able to get on with my life.
Learning the Lessons of Cancer
Despite everything that has happened over these past 8 years, I’m doing well. I have slowed down a bit but am not ready to give up on life yet. There are still so many things I want to do and experience. I have children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren I want to spend time with and just enjoy being in their company.
Cancer has taught me many lessons, including not taking anything for granted. It has also taught me patience. I don’t know what the future will bring. For now, I’m satisfied living in the present and enjoying that next trip to the grocery store.
1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration: FDA approves drug to reduce bone marrow suppression caused by chemotherapy. February 12, 2021. Available at www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-drug-reduce-bone-marrow-suppression-caused-chemotherapy. Accessed October 12, 2022.
Ms. Turner lives in Pittsboro, North Carolina.
Editor’s Note: Columns in the Patient’s Corner are based solely on information The ASCO Post received from patients and should be considered anecdotal.