How I Learned to Channel my Inner “Towanda” – (from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes)

My cancer journey began in December of 2009 when I decided to clean our bathroom. My weapons of choice were bleach and Scrubbing Bubbles, or bleach and ammonia! Evidently I got a little heavy handed, accidentally combined a little too much of the cleansers, and instead of cleaning the bathroom, I cleaned my lungs! Well, my doctor was concerned enough about my cough to order a chest x-ray even though he didn’t think I had given myself chemically induced pneumonia. Turns out he was right. I didn’t have pneumonia but the radiologist noticed a nodule on the right upper lobe of my lung.

Hmmm…Long story short, on October 5, 2010, a biopsy of the nodule revealed stage 1A adenocarcinoma or LUNG CANCER! With the removal of my right upper lobe, I was and remain cancer free. Unfortunately I now have to admit cleaning saved my life! But don’t you have to smoke to get lung cancer? In a word, NO! All you need are lungs. Did you know more women will be diagnosed with lung cancer than breast, ovarian and cervical cancers combined and that more folks who never smoked will be diagnosed with lung cancer than those diagnosed with melanoma, brain and thyroid cancers combined? And the 5 year survival rate for lung cancer is a shocking 15%.

After my diagnosis, I struggled with what to do next. I wanted to do something to raise my voice in honor of all the voices silenced too soon by lung cancer. I wanted to join a local group to offer support for lung cancer patients. I wanted to find a platform from which to make a difference. I found no such group or platform but instead found that the stigma of lung cancer was still alive and well. Instead of getting discouraged, I channeled my inner “Towanda” and decided that if I couldn’t find a group, I would just create my own. That’s when I partnered with Lung Cancer Alliance to bring the first local chapter of a national lung cancer organization to Nashville with a Tennessee chapter.

The mission of Lung Cancer Alliance is “Ending injustice and saving lives through an alliance of advocacy, education and support.” Our efforts locally include conducting monthly meetings at Gilda’s Club of Nashville, hosting awareness events like Shine A Light on Lung Cancer and advocating for lung cancer research, early screening and early treatment. Building these alliances and partnerships is at the core of my advocacy philosophy. We need everyone’s voice to improve the survival statistics of lung cancer. I am honored to be attending the National Women’s Survivor Convention, to be a research advocate with Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center, advocate for American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, a member of Gilda’s Club and the RLC for American Lung Association, a resource chair for the Tennessee Cancer Coalition and a partner with PearlPoint, Lungevity and the National Lung Cancer Partnership.We’re just getting started making some noise for lung cancer.

Stay tuned!