How I Get Through This
People often ask me, “What gets you through all of this?” In other words, how do I manage as a lung cancer survivor, knowing that at any minute, I could be right back where I started.
First, a little background on me. I have been dealing with various health issues throughout my life, beginning with a heart murmur at just seven months old. It turned out to be a yolk sac tumor, which led to two artificial heart valves, chemotherapy, and eventual open heart surgery in high school. Then, in February of 2021, at the age of 35, I was diagnosed with lung cancer (adenocarcinoma). After doing some experimental treatments and getting tested for the KRAS biomarker, I am now doing much better. But, “getting through this” required some incredible support.
First of all, my mom is my rock! She has been there every step of the way with me—through all of the surgeries, my cancer diagnosis, and beyond! Of course, my dad is also amazing, and I know that he also cares a lot! Imagine being diagnosed with lung cancer during Covid, and basically being told by a doctor that, being immunocompromised, you can get seriously ill. During this time, my dad just wanted to give me a hug, but I was like, nope (I couldn’t take any chances).
Additionally, I have the best job! I help lead some of our well-being efforts at work, and especially right now, taking care of one’s mental health is more important than ever. The main purpose of these efforts is to encourage people to take a step back and remember what truly matters. I also try to do this type of reflection on a daily basis.
Each day, I am learning how to get through this, but I am fortunate to have loving friends and family, along with a job that constantly inspires me. I also live by the credo that every day that goes by is a missed opportunity if you’re not taking the chance to enjoy it.
Trusting Your Instincts and Testing for Biomarkers
When most people learn about their cancer diagnosis, they don’t usually feel a sense of relief. But, my experience was a little different. After spending a number of years, meeting with numerous doctors and trying to figure out what was causing these issues, I learned the vital lesson of always trusting your instincts.
My lifelong battle with cancer began when I was new to the world. At only seven months old, I had a heart murmur and was diagnosed with a yolk sac tumor. As a child cancer survivor, it was always in the back of my mind that I would be diagnosed with another cancer in the future.
For a while, I thought that everything was heading in the right direction. However, in March of 2020, just as COVID-19 was starting to wreak havoc, I was struggling to breathe; it felt like there was something sticky in my lungs. This brought me back to memories of high school, when I was dealing with bronchitis and pneumonia.
As a result, I saw an infectious disease specialist and a pulmonologist. After a number of CT scans and other tests, everyone was dumbfounded about my condition. I even got to the point where I wondered to myself, “Raychelle, are you a hypochondriac?” But, I knew, deep down inside, that I wasn’t imagining things, and I was determined to get to the bottom of this mystery.
Finally, I got a second opinion from another pulmonologist. In February of 2021, I received the call that most people never want to receive: the diagnosis of lung cancer. For me, it was almost a relief in a way, but I was also like, “shoot, I have cancer.”
Knowing my diagnosis after all of this time gave me a new purpose and direction. I had to decide between having surgery or taking part in Proton Beam Therapy. I chose the latter since the radiation wasn’t as bad as chemo and having surgery meant I would be on oxygen the rest of my life. After also testing for a biomarker at the suggestion of a friend, I discovered that I probably have the KRAS mutation. This should be a significant part of everyone’s cancer journey as there is always new research being done on gene mutations.
Now, my condition has vastly improved. But, more importantly, I would not only recommend that you do the biomarker test, but that you also trust your instincts because who knows you better than yourself?
How to Help Yourself
While every cancer diagnosis is unique, and we all deal with them in a different manner, I can tell you what has helped me through these difficult times. You might even want to try some of these strategies for yourself.
When I first learned about my lung cancer diagnosis in February of 2021, I had been trying to figure out what was wrong with me for years. Obviously, nobody wants to hear these terrible words, but it put some things into perspective and made me reflect on what’s truly important in life.
So, what can you do if you find yourself in a similar situation? First, talk to other people about your journey and consider what’s really important to you. When you realize what matters the most, it inspires you to reach out to others that are really stressed out and going through similar circumstances. Take some time and think about what makes you happy, and remember that every day that goes by is a missed opportunity if you’re not taking the chance to enjoy it.
In order to organize all of these thoughts, you might consider writing in a gratitude journal. Even on my worst days, when I am having trouble breathing or feeling exhausted, I write down three things I am grateful for and a question for that day. Some questions to consider are: ‘What brings you joy?’ or 'How can I make this world a better place?’ If you’re interested, these journals are available on Amazon. And, if writing isn’t your thing, expressing your thoughts and ideas in any manner can be therapeutic.
One lesson that I learned from writing in a gratitude journal and just talking to other people, is that we are in charge of our own happiness. We are so often inundated with work, family, and daily stressors, sometimes we need to chill and take a break.
While this story is about what you can do to get through these challenging times, it can often feel like you are burden to your loved ones, and having cancer can often be isolating, but you are never alone. As a community, we are always here for one another.
Written by Ryan Bacchia
Each month, KRAS Kickers is pleased to present a Survivor Story. These are the journeys of cancer survivors that have graciously offered to share this part of their lives with us to provide an awareness of community and hope to our readers. None of us are in this alone, and we all have a story to tell.