May 27, 2021
Lung cancer survivor: MD Anderson has given me more time with my kids
BY Ashley Stringer
In 2017, I began experiencing shortness of breath when exercising on the treadmill. I’d noticed commercials on TV about COPD, and I thought, at 34 years old, I was too young to have a chronic condition like that. Still, I had a gut feeling that I needed to have this checked out.
I saw a pulmonologist near my home in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. An X-ray revealed a suspicious spot on my left lung. He consulted the radiology department at a local hospital for a second opinion and scheduled me for additional tests and a biopsy.
I will never forget the day I received the call and was diagnosed with stage IA adenocarcinoma, a type of lung cancer. Additional testing of my tumor revealed my cancer was EGFR-positive.
At the time, my children were ages 7 and 3. All I could think was: “Will I be here to raise my kids?” I have a history of cancer in my family, and none of the outcomes had a happy ending.
I experienced so much sadness, but I knew that negative thinking wouldn’t change my situation, so I decided to put all my effort into beating this disease. I had to do all that I could to be here for my children.
My lung cancer diagnosis led me to MD Anderson
Since only one spot had showed up on imaging tests, my local care team decided that surgery to remove the upper lobe of my left lung was the best treatment course. The surgery went well, and they concluded that none of the lymph nodes around my tumor showed evidence of disease. I was back at work three weeks later.
Once I recovered from surgery, my care team wanted to see me every three months for scans and testing. After my first follow-up, my oncologist saw more spots on my lungs that needed monitoring. When the nodules continued to grow, my oncologist suggested I go to MD Anderson.
In April 2019, I had my first appointment with radiation oncologist Dr. Saumil Gandhi. The nodule on my left lung was biopsied and radiation therapy was recommended. I completed one week of radiation treatment in May 2019. Over time, another nodule has grown and as a result, my most recent round of radiation was in December 2020.
Dr. Gandhi gave me so much hope when I had lost mine. But he is also very realistic and honest with me. He has always been willing to listen and answer my questions.
If the nodules on my lungs continue to grow and we can no longer use radiation therapy, Dr. Gandhi and I have discussed trying an EGFR-targeted therapy drug. He is always providing me with options.
I feel so grateful to be at MD Anderson. In my opinion, it’s the best place in the world to be. I encourage anyone I know who is facing cancer to consider MD Anderson.
People often ask me why I travel from Oklahoma to Texas for my treatment, and this is what I tell them: at the end of my life, whether that’s in 5 years or 50 years, I want to be able to say I did everything possible to beat this disease. So, that’s why I come to MD Anderson. It’s my best shot.
Spreading lung cancer awareness and living in the moment with my family
I don’t know what my future holds, but four years after my diagnosis, I’m still here. Every day I have is another day to create memories with my children and husband. My prayer every night is to be here to raise them. I’ve found that maintaining a positive attitude is all about perspective and appreciating the days you have. No one is promised tomorrow.
In addition to remaining present with my family, I have dedicated my time to raising awareness about lung cancer. Before my diagnosis, I led a healthy lifestyle. I exercised regularly, maintained a healthy diet, didn’t drink and never smoked.
Many people still think lung cancer only affects smokers. It’s time to change the stigma surrounding this disease. Anyone can get lung cancer.
I know there are a lot of other young women getting diagnosed with lung cancer. I want them to hear my story and know that in their darkest moment, there is someone else going through exactly what they are. Most of all, I want them to never lose hope.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
I want to be able to say I did everything possible to beat this disease.