I have lived in Louisville, Kentucky most of my life. For the last 10 years, I made managing my health a priority. I never smoked a day in my life. I exercise most days. I eat right. I have a yearly physical, mammogram, blood work, wear sunscreen, and basically do my best to be as healthy as possible. I am a busy mom to 3 children and loving my life and, bam…I am hit with this most unlikely diagnosis.
My journey with lung cancer began like many other stories I have read…with a misdiagnosis. A persistent cough in October 2019 led to a chest x-ray and an eventual diagnosis of pneumonia. After 2 rounds of antibiotics that were not effective, doctors ordered a chest CT scan and diagnosed me with Antibiotic Resistant Pneumonia. I was admitted to the hospital with 2 IV antibiotics and a bronchoscopy was performed by a Pulmonologist and told the results were “normal.” After a 5 day stay, I was discharged from the hospital to recover.
Time passed but my cough was still hanging around and I still just wasn’t feeling myself. I knew something wasn’t right. Two weeks after returning home from the hospital I went back to my Primary Care Physician with worsening side pain. I received another chest X-ray, followed by a chest CT scan that showed lesions on my spine. I was once again admitted to the hospital where I had a bone biopsy, a brain MRI, a chest tube inserted, and another bronchoscopy procedure.
I spent 8 days in a hospital bed and test results revealed I had stage IV adenocarcinoma lung cancer. It was one week before Christmas and I was only 43 years old. To say this was a shock, is putting it lightly! Molecular testing results showed I have the EGFR exon 19 deletion mutation. EGFR mutations are most common in female nonsmokers with adenocarcinoma like me. The mutation can cause cells to grow out of control and lead to cancer as it did in my case.
On December 30th I started a targeted therapy drug called Tagrisso known to show successful results in slowing down, reversing, and even eliminating some of the cancer due to this mutation. It is not a cure, as there is currently no cure for stage 4 lung cancer, but it is the best line of treatment for my type of mutation and I am fortunate to have access to this line of targeted treatment. It is not without its share of side effects that are sometimes challenging to deal with, but I know this little pill I take every day is saving my life. However, it is a constant reminder that I have cancer.
Since January 2, 2020, I have been traveling back and forth between my Oncologist in Louisville and Oncologist Dr. Horn at Vanderbilt who is an expert in the type of cancer I have.
The second leading cause of lung cancer is exposure to radon gas and Dr. Horn believes this is most likely the cause of my lung cancer since I have never smoked. Looking back, we did have slightly elevated radon at our house we moved out of 3 years prior to my diagnosis, but I cannot pinpoint any other times I may have been exposed. It is important that people understand the danger of this radioactive gas and have their homes tested for radon. I never in a million years would have expected to receive this diagnosis and if I can help others understand that anyone can get lung cancer, I want to be able to generate that awareness with my story.
I am fighting, I am remaining positive, and I am living my best life one day at a time.
Leah is a part of the organization, Breath of Hope KY. Learn more about this organization.