Some people will say that you could die any day, and being diagnosed with a terminal disease like lung cancer doesn’t change that fact. However, people don’t get in their car thinking they are driving to the car accident that will kill them; you get in the car thinking you’re going somewhere.
And that’s how I was living my life until I was diagnosed with lung cancer. I was suddenly slapped upside my head with my own mortality. I always assumed I would be here to grow old with my husband and meet my grandkids. After I was diagnosed, I realized those things weren’t guarantees.
Being diagnosed with any cancer is scary and overwhelming, but with lung cancer, you also have to deal with shame. There is an undercurrent to lung cancer that those who get the disease, particularly those who smoked, deserve it. This is a double standard. Smoking causes a host of problems outside of lung cancer, but we don't shame people with those problems and diseases.
As a community, we focus on those who do not smoke, but still end up with lung cancer; what people don’t realize is that this doubles the blame for those who did smoke. We can’t keep making people who fit criteria for lung cancer feel that it’s their own fault. I’ve been a non-smoker a lot longer than I was ever a smoker; do I deserve lung cancer? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how it transpired. No one deserves this disease, and the shame makes it difficult to come to terms and live with the disease.
Something else I found particular difficult about my diagnosis was my changing role within my family. I have four grown daughters that I am very close with, who had a hard time accepting what was happening. I was always the one who took care of everyone else, as mom and caregiver, and didn’t know how to let others take care of me.
One of my daughters didn’t even want to talk about my diagnosis. She called me every day to talk about her job and her life, but didn’t want to hear about mine. I felt hurt that I wasn’t able to receive the same support I gave her day in and day out. One day, she called when I was having a bad day. I knew she wouldn’t want to hear about it, so I didn’t pick up and ended up not returning her call that day. She was furious and made snide comments to both her father and me that the least I could’ve done was send a text.
That was my breaking point. I knew her resistance to discuss my disease came from a place of fear, but I also needed her and my other daughters to support me. I told her about my bad day and about how I was stigmatized at my doctor’s appointment. I expressed how upset I was that she never researched for me or offered to do anything for me. I told her I felt like no one in the family was going to be able to advocate for me besides me, and that made me feel alone.
She didn’t understand at first. In fact, it took several weeks and some of the other sisters putting it into perspective for her to get it. But now I feel like they are coming to terms with the disease. They understand that I need my time to share what I’m feeling and tell them what’s going on. We are figuring out how to handle it as a family, and that gives me hope.
I do get how overwhelming it is to them. They don’t want me to go anywhere, and neither do I. But I can’t tell you how many times I fought back tears because crying wasn’t being strong. I realize now that being vulnerable and expressing how I am feeling isn't weak, even if that means letting some tears out sometimes. Now, if I’m having a bad day, I know that I just have to let it out, and minutes later I can bounce back.
It took me some time to find them, but I also now have other outlets for my worries and fears. I have found a community of others affected by lung cancer online, such as on Facebook and message boards. I’ve also joined some of the LUNGevity Virtual Meetups, which have been like group therapy for me. I’ve met some great people who encourage and support me. I know, if I tune in, they will always be there.
19 months after my diagnosis, I am more at peace with my diagnosis. I have had some anxiety and depression throughout, and I will always have good days and bad days, but I now realize I don’t have control over this journey other than what I can do for myself. I’ve always considered myself spiritual, but I’ve gotten more in touch with my faith. I put my trust in two things: God and science, and I’m placing a lot of hope in both of those things. I’m try not to be demanding of Him, but I’m a lot more demanding of science: I want science to make a difference in the length of people’s lives and I want them to find a cure.
Until then, I try to get up every morning and be grateful that I am still here. I hold on to my faith in God and science. I enjoy my time with my family, my husband, and my dog. And I remain cautiously optimistic for the future.
Lyn Smith has been married to the man of her dreams for 33 years this year. She is the mother of 4 amazingly beautiful daughters and about to have her 8th grandchild - a grandson. She was blessed to be a stay-at-home mom until her kids were older, at which point she worked for the school district they lived in for 15 years. She drove a school bus and was a para educator for the handicap.
Lyn is still actively involved in Boxer dog rescue in her state; boxers are her family’s soul dog. They have fostered many, adopted (foster failed), and shared in the passion of finding forever homes for this amazing breed
Retiring younger than most, she and her husband built our own business in lawn care. They ran their business successfully for another 15 years. It allowed them winter escapes to the south, with many years in southern Texas on the coast. Prior to Lyn’s diagnoses, they had just made the BIG move to the east side of southern Florida for what they planned to be real retirement. They moved back north at the end of her chemo to be close to family. They hope to soon be able to resume their southern travels in the winter.
Thank you for sharing your story, Lyn, I am a 62 year old woman recently diagnosed with stage IV nsclc and have been feeling many of the feelings you described. Appreciating each day that I feel good and relying on God and science to keep the anxiety at bay is great advice I have been trying to live by as well. Thanks again.