My Journey As a Cancer Survivor

Yes, that is me a survivor, a cancer survivor. I think that in many ways we’re all survivors of one sort or another. We’ve all gone through our own trials and tribulations in our lives.

It’s my hope that this “journey” may help those who have been diagnosed with, are going through, or finished their cancer treatments. It’s also my hope that the families of those diagnosed can gain a little insight, from my perspective, of what we go through. So here’s my journey, the bearing of my soul, the good, the bad and the ugly…and yes there was good that came out of this journey.

Let me go forward with this blog post. During the spring of 2008, I had gained some weight as we all do over the winter. I began walking, two 1/2 miles in the morning and a mile at night and doing quite well. I was very dedicated and determined to lose about twenty-five pounds. OK so I was a smoker, I know I have heard it all, had the looks and it is no wonder why you got cancer, wow talk about adding insult to injury. But even with my smoking I was quite active and had absolutely NO, not a one symptom of lung cancer.

My mom had Ovarian Cancer when I was a teenager and I remember picking her up at the hospital after her surgery. My niece at age sixteen had Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2003. A friend of hers had grabbed her from behind kidding around and felt a lump. And her whirlwind began. I would go to her home every other day to give her her injections and help with her care. I was very involved with her treatment and knowledgeable about “cancer.” I come from a large family, six of us and with all our extended families and relatives, these were the only cases of cancer in our lineage.
I remember walking up the stairs in my home at the end of the summer and becoming out of breath and thinking geez, I wonder if I’ve cancer…..that was it. Just a thought and it was gone.

I’m a firm believer in positive thinking, not a particularly religious person but a fiercely spiritual person. I believe in the power of prayer and positive affirmations and a higher being. The Universe. I think that this helped me tremendously during this time.

September 29, 2008.

The Day The Whirlwind Began.

I was having an argument with my husband, cannot even remember what it was about, and then I was having an anxiety attack, can you imagine in the middle of an argument. Since I’ve some medical issues, I decided to go to hospital and as mad as I was I told my husband not to come with me. Do not get me wrong I love the guy but needed some space.

When I got to the hospital, they ran the regular tests which came back normal and then did a chest x-ray and then a CT Scan, hmm just a little out of the ordinary but when you’re in the hospital you go with the flow. And then I sat and sat and waited and waited with the hubby, yes he came down to the hospital. Being the stubborn type of person I’m, I got dressed after five hours and told the nurse I was going home since no one had come to talk to me. The Doctor came in and told me I could not go home they were transferring me to the main hospital because I had Lung Cancer. BOOM Just Like That. Can we say bedside manner, none. I knew but I knew I would be OK.

I told the Dr that I was going home and would call my own doctor in the morning, which is what I did and the journey began.

In retrospect, I wished I had asked more questions and weighed the options more carefully but once you’re diagnosed everything happens so fast you almost do not have time to think. It becomes a whirlwind very quickly. It’s so important to chose your own doctors who you’re comfortable with and you can talk to and ask questions.

I called my doctor Monday morning and got an appointment that day, hey when you say you’ve been diagnosed with Cancer, everyone gets in high gear. My doctor confirmed the results and the whirlwind started. It took about a week to get an appointment with the oncologist. During which time my husband got laid off from his job. Good and bad, yes he was around but he doesn’t deal well with illness nor me being sick. I did not tell anyone, not even my children and swore my husband to secrecy. I did tell my neighbor, who was the biggest part of my care, that I will get into later. I did not really have too much information, yes I had Lung Cancer, but that was all.

My husband and I met with Oncologist at the Cancer Center of NC, what an awesome place to be treated. She confirmed that I had Non Small Cell Lung Cancer and immediately scheduled me for a biopsy and an appointment with a Thoracic Surgeon at Duke.

One of the hardest things was to tell my family and friends. CANCER IS NOT A DEATH SENTENCE. I cannot tell you how many times I had to say this. I was so confident that I would be OK. Most cried and I had to be the strong one saying CANCER IS NOT A DEATH SENTENCE, I’ll be OK.

It was truly amazing to me how people responded to the news. During this journey I was surprised at those who stepped up and helped me and supported me, those who barely even knew me. My neighbors who banded together to supply pre-made meals from Dinner Savvy for months, yes months. And then those who could no longer speak to me because I found that everyone handles illness differently. My brother who no longer could call me, he was afraid I would die to my best friend in NY who could only cry every time I spoke to her. It is difficult for everyone who’s involved, but throughout it all I knew l would be OK.

I had my biopsy which confirmed that I had Non Small Cell Lung Cancer in my left lung. I was stage 1B. The cancer was about one 1/2 inches and had not spread. The Thoracic Surgeon and Oncologist told me that I was “lucky”. The best cancer to get in the worst situation, OK…. I was immediately scheduled for a Lung Resection, which is they remove half your lung. Breathing Tests were conducted to see how this would affect my breathing and it was determined that there would be little affect and I wouldn’t need to be on oxygen after the surgery.

The morning of the surgery I had to leave at 4:30 in the morning, my husband and I were going alone, I was concerned because he does not handle these situations well. Boy were we surprised to find one of our neighbors sitting in her car waiting outside to bring us to the hospital, what great neighbors!!! What a god send.

I never asked “why me”, I just continued on my journey to rid my body of the cancer. I relied on my faith to get me through and I knew I would be OK.
Did I mention I’m stubborn? I was admitted into the hospital on October thirty and released November 2, three days. I was determined to be out of the hospital. My doctor told me that I could leave when I could walk the hallways, well I was up and about the day after the surgery walking the halls, I was going home and I would be OK. And I’m. The power of prayer and positive thinking.
Overall Stage Grouping is also referred to as Roman Numeral Staging. This system uses numerals I, II, III, and IV (plus the 0) to describe the progression of cancer.

* Stage zero carcinoma in situ.
* Stage I cancers are localized to one part of the body.
* Stage II cancers are locally advanced.
* Stage III cancers are also locally advanced. Whether a cancer is designated as Stage II or Stage III can depend on the specific type of cancer; for example, in Hodgkin’s Disease, Stage II indicates affected lymph nodes on only one side of the diaphragm, whereas Stage III indicates affected lymph nodes above and below the diaphragm. The specific criteria for Stages II and III therefore differ according to diagnosis.
* Stage IV cancers have often metastasized, or spread to other organs or throughout the body.
Within the TNM system, a cancer may also be designated as recurrent, meaning that it has appeared again after being in remission or after all visible tumor has been eliminated. Recurrence can either be local, meaning that it appears in the same location as the original, or distant, meaning that it appears in a different part of the body.

Some doctors further diagnose using a letter system to further define cancer.

The CCNC became my second home for the next nine months. They’ve seen me at my worst, which was pretty bad, the care and compassion was way above and beyond.

I had my port inserted the second week in November and started chem the week after. Two weeks on one week off, which means I had chemo for two weeks and then had a week off. Really wasn’t too too bad at the beginning. During the second month I had an adverse reaction to the drugs and had to start on a new drug and was now three weeks on one week off. I really had thought I was a strong women, these new drugs knocked me on my butt.
At one point my blood counts were so low that I had to have a transfusion and then weekly injections to keep my blood count within an acceptable range.

I had started chemo right before Thanksgiving, so Thanksgiving and Christmas were hard for us. We usually had a house full and I just could not do it and I did not have the energy to go anywhere. I cried as I told me boys ages twenty and eightteen how sorry I was. They were wonderful throughout my whole ordeal, helping me whenever they could.

2 of my neighbors accompanied me to my chemo sessions. One week was for six hours, two weeks were for three hours. It truly is amazing who stepped up and supported us. They stayed with me for over eight hours during week one of each session, you truly learn who your friends are when you’re sick and I’ll be eternally grateful to those who have helped us so much. We had lunch, we read, we laughed, we bonded with everyone who was going through the same thing, we all became friends and a support system for each other comparing notes, treatments and questions. The CCNC’s treatment room is open, friendly and airy with a huge fish tank.

I knew that I would lose my hair. But know and then having it happen are 2 very, very different things. My neighbor and I went to the Lovely Lady. Darlene and her sister were great. They talked me through alot of my questions and were so knowledgeable. We tried on wigs and wraps and really made a great day of it. You learn to take things in stride or so I thought so….until my hair started to fall out and it happened so quickly.
It was about two weeks after my initial chemo, I was in the shower and I had a bunch of strands in my hand. I thought.. Here we go. It was quite unnerving. So I went and had my shoulder length hair cut short but it still kept falling out but it was worse because it was short, go figure. I was in the shower and my hand was full of short hairs. I went back and had what I call a GI Jane, hey Demi, hair cut and the next day I went back and had it buzzed. It was better to cut it all off than have it fall out. That’s just the way I felt, not everyone feels the same.

So I had a new style, no wigs, just lots of wraps, hats, scarves to match my clothes. I loved the scarf wraps so I could tie them tie and wrap the ends in.

I’ve medical coverage, but no prescription coverage. I was quite surprised to find out that my medical coverage didn’t, nope, cover all my medical expenses. My husband was out of work on unemployment, ouch.

The Financial Advisor was awesome!!! We were assured that I would still receive treatment and advised us to apply for grants. We applied for three grants and received financial aid that paid for some of the treatments. There are organizations that offer grants to pay for treatment. The prescription pills I took for nausea were one hundred dollars a pill, the CCNC forwarded my information and the drug company sent me my medication free of charge. Now do not get me wrong we’re still trying to pay off five figures of medical bills but these organizations were a god send to us.
I also contacted the Financial Departments and asked for Financial Aid for my surgeries. I had been in three different hospitals. One hospital in particular allowed me 10,000 in medical care. Another a percentage off my bill according to our income. Each hospital is different but will try to assist you in paying your bill, at least mine did.

Research is the key. Ask questions about your payment options, what grants are available. Do not be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. These are so important and definately lessens the stress, you certainly do not need anymore! I know I did not.

A note about grants, there are different grants for different types of Cancer. Go online to cancer.gov. There is information on how to receive grants for treatment of cancer. There is link on the lower left side of the page. You’ll also be able to fill out the applications and send it in. Contact the National Cancer Institute, which offers grants for cancer treatment for patients across the country. The NCI is reachable by phone at (800) 422-6237, email at cancergovstaff@mail.nih.gov.

Contact institutions that treat specific types of cancers. For example, for breast cancer grants you can contact the Greenebaum Cancer Center by phone at (800) 888-8823 to apply for a grant. The Komen Foundation helps fund those who need assistance on cancer treatment through the cancer center.

I took weekly trips to the Cancer Center for over eight months. My last chemo was May 27, 2009. It was the end of an era, almost the end of the journey. It was almost like a second family and I was almost sad to say good bye but it was a happy good bye. But then again, us survivors know that we’ll be back at least for me every three months for a PET Scan, which detects any cancer cells in your body and a Brain MRI.

It took almost three months for me to feel like my old self again, but then again it is a new me with a long journey behind me that has made me the new me. A better me for having finished this journey, meeting so many great, understanding people, having strangers help me for no other reason than because…For all those I Thank You from the bottom of my heart to the top of yours, you know who you’re. You’re the nurses, the doctors, the cancer centers across the world, the volunteers, the hospitals that called to see if I was OK, the drug companies and the grant institutions, the ladies at the Lovely Lady, my friends, my family, my neighbors, the strangers who did not even know me……

I had my port removed December 28, 2009 and as I finish this am feeling great and looking forward to a new journey in life…being healthy…
Ann Cohen is a mom, wife, friend, caterer and cancer survivor who loves babies, “green”, decorating and holiday’s. Find out more about Ann’s Journey of a Cancer Survivor.