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Overcoming Lung Cancer Stigma

Korin Miller

She hid her diagnosis from her kids on Christmas Day: ' I didn’t want to ruin their Christmas'

Terri Conneran had been living with asthma for a decade before she started to experience serious breathing issues. Conneran, who was 55 at the time, tells Yahoo Life that she especially struggled with breathing normally in hot, humid weather.

“It was getting harder to breathe,” she says. “I went back and forth to my doctors eight to 10 times over the course of two years.” Conneran says doctors kept changing her asthma medication and listening to her lungs “but we didn’t pursue anything farther.”

“From the asthma, they told me, ‘We’ll give the new medication some time to work’ or ‘it’s probably allergies,’” she says. Finally, during the holiday season in 2016, Conneran says she felt “so sick.”

So, she went back to her doctor, assuming that she needed antibiotics for an infection. “I was expecting to have a cold or something, but my doctors said she could hear major fluid in my lungs,” she says. Conneran was diagnosed with pneumonia and sent for a chest X-ray. Conneran says the diagnosis saved her life—it helped doctors see a tumor in her lung clearly.

“I had so much fluid that you could see the tumor in there—tumors normally just hide,” she says. Conneran was treated for pneumonia, while her doctors ordered additional testing to be done right after the holidays.

Conneran didn’t know for sure that she had cancer, but doctors suspected it. It was right before Christmas, and Conneran decided to keep the news a secret from her family—only her husband knew. “I didn’t want to ruin their Christmas,” she says. She waited until the New Year to share what she knew.

“I was completely terrified,” Conneran remembers. “I wanted to see and talk to somebody who had been through what I had gone through, what I was facing and know that there was another side. I needed desperately to talk to someone.”

The first week in January 2017, Conneran went through four different scans and a biopsy to get a proper diagnosis. At one point, she was told it didn’t look like cancer. But, when the biopsy results came back, it was official: She had lung cancer. “It was one of those out of body moments,” Conneran says