I know when I was diagnosed with cancer, and also when other family members and friends have been diagnosed with cancer, how comforting it was to hear stories of others who had faced similar challenges. Every journey with cancer is different, but many of the same questions, feelings, fears, and on the positive side, "silver linings," share a common thread.
Why do These Stories Bring Comfort?Hearing the stories of others may bring comfort in several ways:
- You may feel less alone. It often surprises me how few people with lung cancer have even met another person with lung cancer. Unlike breast cancer that's identified with a swarm of pink just-about-anything from ribbons to blenders, lung cancer is less visible. But the lack of color is misleading. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths for both men and women in the United States.
- You can face the stigma of lung cancer knowing you aren't alone. Whether you smoked or not, the first words from many upon learning about your diagnosis of cancer be painful: "How long did you smoke?" Just knowing that others have likewise been treated differently than those, for example with breast cancer, can be a comfort.
- You can learn how others have found hope even in the worst of circumstances.
- You can read how others have found meaning in their diagnosis, and how sometimes this has opened new channels of creativity, growth, and spirituality.
- It can be a reminder that everyone’s cancer journey is unique. Why this helpful? As a cancer survivor I’ve often heard well-meaning people compare my journey to that of another. Not only can that make you feel less understood, but it devalues your own thoughts and feelings.
- Though it's not a substitute for your health care team’s advice, sometimes people learn of new treatments, or better ways of managing and coping with the symptoms of cancer.
Sources of StoriesThere are several organizations that have compiled the stories of people living with lung cancer, their loved ones, and caregivers. There are also people who share their ongoing stories via blogs, generously allowing others the opportunity to say “yes – somebody else feels that way too!” I’ve put together some of my favorites here. (If I’ve missed your organization, blog, or personal story online, please email me so I can make sure others find it as well.) But before starting, I wanted to share a cancer story that has been very meaningful to me – and one I carry with me when I talk to people coping with cancer. It was written by my friend Alison Doyle, our About.com Guide to Job Search:
Stories of StrengthThe National Lung Cancer Partnership provides links to the stories of many people who have faced lung cancer. These include stories that have been generously shared by:
- Lung cancer survivors
- Loved ones and friends of people with lung cancer, and
- Doctors, researchers, nurses, and other health professionals who care for those with lung cancer
Their intention in sharing these stories is so that nobody has to feel like they are facing cancer alone. Reading the stories provided here reminds me of the diversity of lung cancer – and how anyone with lungs can get lung cancer. It affects men and it affects women. It affects older people and it affects younger people. The commonality in these stories is strength. The strength to face scary treatments. The resilience when things don’t go as planned. And, for some of these people, the courage to accept that a cure is not possible, but to live every day to the fullest anyway.
When I was going through my radiation therapy treatments for breast cancer, a little boy (bald like me from chemotherapy) sat down next to me wearing a T-shirt saying “You don’t know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” That’s not entirely true. We can choose to be angry about our diagnoses. We can choose to wallow in self-pity. We can choose to live every day wondering how many days we have, rather than living the days we have. I hope these stories inspire you as they did me, that we have a choice to be strong – and that sometimes the strongest thing we can do is allow ourselves to be weak enough to allow others to help us.
Stories of HopeThe Lung Cancer Alliance provides “Stories of Hope” – a site where you can read the stories of a diverse group of people living with lung cancer, and listen to what has helped them survive – even thrive. If you are interested, you are also invited to email your story to them and talk about the life lessons and meaning you have found in your journey thus far with cancer.
Reading these stories brought back so many of my own memories upon first being diagnosed. The shock of diagnosis. The difficulty in accepting this is really happening to you, and not someone else.
There are stories of what it's like being in a clinical trial for a new drug -- and in reading one man's story about ALK positive lung cancer I am sure many of you will find encouragement in hearing a real-life example of how advances in medical care are occuring for lung cancer. It is also encouraging to hear the stories of people with advanced lung cancers (such as stage 3B and stage 4) who are living and thriving months, years, and even over a decade beyond what statistics would predict.
Some people talk about the shock (and the stigma) of developing lung cancer as a non-smoker. Though it's quite common -- 20% of women with lung cancer have never smoked -- it seems the public image is different.
What can't be denied is that having lung cancer changes people. Some people become advocates for lung cancer. Some grow deeply spiritually. And some people take on new activities such as watercolor painting (art therapy for cancer has indeed been found to have some benefits.) For some people, living like they know they are going to die allows them to live life to the fullest. Reading these stories certainly made me value each moment a little more.
Faces of HopeAnother group of lung cancer survivors share their stories in LUNGevity's "Faces of Hope videos." What does survivorship mean? What are your dreams -- for example, seeing your children or grandchildren grow up? How has the stigma affected you? Many of you may find a common bond with what people have expressed here. For example, Matt Ellefson talks about tumor screening and also his strong sense of gratitude. Heather Geraghty discusses having lung cancer at the young age of 24. And Sara Ratzenberger talks about the heartbreak and fear, and the stigma of having what she calls "the ugly stepchild cancer."
Also check out a wonderful summary featuring both survivors and researchers in the Voices of Hope video.
More Stories About Lung CancerThere are other ways you can hear stories and share your own about lung cancer. Some people write blogs about their journey:
Lung cancer support groups are a great way to connect with others.
There are also books that open a window into the life of people with lung cancer and their caregivers. A few of my favorites are Be a Survivor Lung Cancer Treatment Guide by Vladimir Lange, which mixes important information on lung cancer for those newly diagnosed (and in treatment) with comments from survivors about their feelings and thoughts. Another is Cancer Journey: A Caregiver's View From the Passenger Seat by Cynthia Siegfried which tells her story of what it is like to have a loved one with lung cancer.
Lung Cancer Alliance. Accessed 07/29/13. http://www.lungcanceralliance.org/
LUNGevity. Accessed 07/29/13. http://events.lungevity.org/site/PageServer
National Lung Cancer Partnership. Accessed 07/29/13. http://www.nationallungcancerpartnership.org/about-us