Please consider purchasing Lung Sask 50/50 tickets or making a donation to Lung Saskatchewan so they can continue their work supporting people like Candace!
I was diagnosed with lung cancer by accident. While in the hospital for another condition, I had an abdominal scan that captured a part of the lower lobes of my lungs. A nodule was detected in the left lower lobe and was thought likely to be lung cancer. I was referred to a thoracic surgeon and went through all of the tests – CT scans, PET scan, and a lung biopsy. As is probably the case with anyone with a cancer diagnosis, it was a very trying time. I had a video assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) lobectomy surgery on April 26, 2016 to remove the left lower lobe of my lung.
I am not sure if being a nurse makes it harder to receive a diagnosis of lung cancer, or not. On one hand, I knew how to navigate the health care system and what to expect on my cancer journey, but on the other hand, I knew enough about the dismal rates of lung cancer survival to be frightened that I was going to die.
Because my cancer was detected early, and I did not need chemotherapy or radiation after my surgery, I was never referred to the Cancer Clinic and I did not have an oncologist. As a result, I needed to seek out other ways to find support on my cancer journey. Initially, I found support through groups such as Lung Cancer Canada and the Canadian Lung Cancer Advocacy Facebook group ‘Breathe Hope’. Lung Saskatchewan did not have a support group at the time, however, after talking to the nurses and staff at the Lung Cancer Support Group was created! Now Lung Saskatchewan now has eight different groups to support patients and caregivers on their lung health journey.
Going through diagnosis and surgery are big hurdles on the cancer journey; and the regular checkups afterward to know if you are cancer free is also very nerve-racking. Often described as "scanxiety", it can be described as the apprehension you feel or the build-up before your appointment and the wait until you get the all clear you are still cancer-free. My husband always sensed when my three-month checkups were coming because I could be more irritable. I thought I would be relieved when I was finally five years cancer-free and no longer had to have these scans, but it brought on a whole level of worry – now I wasn't being monitored at all. So how would I know if the cancer came back? The emotional support provided by other people going through the same experience has really helped.
Since my lung cancer diagnosis, I've been committed to making a positive impact on the lives of others and lending my experience to organizations that support quality of life, health care, system reform, and health research. This includes reducing the stigma attached to lung cancer and advocating for early detection of lung cancer through lung cancer screening programs.
When a person goes for their annual check up, they are screened for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers, however, lung cancer screening is very limited in most provinces. Even though lung cancer kills more people than colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer combined each year1, lung cancer screening has limited criteria and the general public doesn't even know it is an option. I volunteered with a research project to investigate the use of Artificial Intelligence in CT scans in lung cancer screening and I will continue to advocate for lung cancer screening to be widely available across our province. I am the perfect example of how early detection of lung cancer can result in a positive outcome.
I still do not know exactly what caused my lung cancer. It is a myth than only people who smoke can get lung cancer. Lung cancer can also be caused by other risk factors such as genetics, radon, chemicals, asbestos, and pollution. I had not smoked for more than 35 years prior to my diagnosis and I have not been around chemicals or asbestos, as far as I know. I no longer live in the home I lived in for most of my married life, so I was not able to test for radon there but I have tested my current home. I was surprised by the stigma tied to a lung cancer diagnosis and that this stigma negatively affects every facet of the lung cancer community from patients and caregivers to clinicians, researchers and funders. Anyone can develop lung cancer. If you have lungs, you can get lung cancer!
I am thankful that Lung Saskatchewan continues to provide resources and support for people diagnosed with lung cancer and to raise public awareness about lung cancer. If you have questions, know that Lung Saskatchewan is here to support you.
Please consider purchasing a raffle ticket or making a donation to Lung Saskatchewan so they can continue their work to improve lung health, one breath at a time.