Life beyond lung cancer

A strange thing has happened in the past couple of months: I’ve become intensely involved in finishing my final qualifying exam and my dissertation proposal, which have nothing whatsoever to do with lung cancer. I’ve been working with a coach who has encouraged me to make those academic projects my top priority and to spend 2-3 hours a day working on them without distractions or interruptions. I’ve been working in 30- to 60-minute blocks, setting a timer and trying hard not to look up from my work until the timer goes off. The results so far have been splendid: I submitted the qualifying exam last week, and have written significant chunks of my proposal. I’m able to get up in the morning, see my daughter off to school, make my coffee and then just start writing. I don’t think I’ve ever been this productive before.

Sometimes I almost forget I have cancer. Other than my crizotinib pills and my monthly visits to Sloan-Kettering, there aren’t many physical reminders right now. When people ask how I’m doing, the first thing that comes to mind is how good and productive I feel. It can take me a moment or two to remember that they are probably worried about me because they know I have a terminal illness, and might be interested to know how well my medication is working.

Crizotinib keeps working well. Two months ago, my CT scan found a small, new spot on one of my lungs, and I worried about it. I had another CT scan last week, though, and that new spot had disappeared. We had extremely cold weather in the Northeast this winter, and sometimes in the extreme cold I could find myself wheezing or a little short of breath; I asked the university for a new medical parking permit, to avoid having to walk half a mile to campus when it was under 20 degrees. It’s finally spring now, though, and I am enjoying that walk again.

Sometimes it feels funny to make my academic work my top priority, burying my nose in books and putting off answering an email about next year’s Free to Breathe walk, updating the blog, or catching up on the #LCSM (lung cancer social media) tweetchats. I love my work, though, and it is a big part of what makes me feel good about being alive and in such good health. Eventually I will add more of the lung cancer advocacy back in, either because I’m that much more organized about my dissertation and can do both, or because my priorities shift again.

I feel grateful to look at my stats and see that even while I haven’t been writing any new posts, people have continued to read the blog. I have tried to set it up as more of a manual to living with lung cancer than as a day-by-day chronicle of my own struggle, and I hope most of the posts will be timely no matter when you look at them. I can’t promise I’ll actually post very often in the next few months, but I thought that at least a small update on my own life was in order. I hope that it’s useful in some way just to know that someone out there with advanced lung cancer is healthy enough to occasionally forget, and to work on other important things for a while.

On a sadder and more serious note, one of the young lung cancer bloggers who inspired me has died. You will see that I’ve moved Jessica Rice’s blog from “Blogs by lung cancer survivors” to “In Memoriam.” I didn’t know Jessica personally, but her blog was full of energy, life, and inspiration. It still is, but tempered now by the awful sadness of losing her. I often say that lung cancer research is now where AIDS research was in about 1995: some people who are very ill now will still be alive and well ten years from now, but we don’t know yet who those people will be. I am so sorry that Jessica will not be among them. She deserved to be.

About Irene Elizabeth (Beth!) Stroud

Queer suburban mom, graduate student, lung cancer survivor, card-carrying United Methodist.
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5 Responses to Life beyond lung cancer

  1. I’m so glad you’re focusing on something other than cancer. It feels good, doesn’t it? I’m not out of the woods yet, but I can go days without thinking about CT scans, or chemo, or tumors.
    I feel the same way about Jessica; so sad that such a bright shining light has been extinguished. Her blog will live on though, full of hope and optimism for those who come behind her.

  2. Deborah Gildart-Hanks says:

    Thanks for your update, Irene. Blessings to you as you continue your dissertation!

  3. craigblower says:

    Wonderful synopsis. I’ve been trying concentrate on a more of a “what’s it like” scenario in my blog as well. In between scans/treatments, that’s really all we have anyway. Good luck on your educational goals.

  4. Wendy Feinstein Eisenberg says:

    Beth, we went to GHS together but regretfully only got talking towards graduation. I read about the discrimination you faced ten years ago and again yesterday in the GHS Alumnae newsletter. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. My mother battled lung disease (asthma and pulmonary fibrosis) and survived a thoracotomy and wedge resection and a biopsy in her late sixties to rule out cancer. Ironically, her breathing improved after a painful recovery only for her to develop and succumb to early onset dementia a few years later. I know that your family and your academic work have helped you to fight this cancer and will continue to inspire you. Kudos to you and your vast inner strength.

  5. Susan Messina says:

    Just shared your blog with a dear friend whose mom was just diagnosed with lung cancer. I sent the link to all our mutual friends and one wrote back to me and said, “Susan! This is a goldmine!” I thought you’d like to hear this. A

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