By Natalie Brown, as told by Kendall Morgan
When I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at the age of 33, I had to quickly make a lot of tough decisions, including whether to freeze my eggs before starting treatment or not be able to have children. We decided to go ahead with treatment right away. At the beginning of the treatment, I felt terrible. I was exhausted and didn’t have much to do. It took time to come to terms with the diagnosis. How I feel mentally still changes day by day.
Overall, the emotional impact and experience was not what I initially expected. I didn’t expect the treatment to go the way it did. Things are going surprisingly well for Stage 4, so let’s start there. But I say emotionally, every treatment is very different. Sometimes, I can go through treatment and it’s like, “Hey, I’m having chemo.” Sometimes, it’s like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I have lung cancer. I can’t believe I have to put poison in my body.”
I have to change my life around therapy. I will do everything I can before starting treatment. I am still working and it is very difficult to try to work and get treatment at the same time. If I get therapy on a Monday, I’ll do everything I can because by Wednesday or Thursday, I might not feel like walking up the stairs.
Emotionally, it’s all over the place. It’s like a roller coaster. Sometimes you are awake and sometimes you are down. It’s a complex mix of feelings with treatment every 3 weeks. I know I’m going to be down for a week, so I’m going to hurry up and press. I will make sure all clothes are washed. My husband helps me, of course, but I want a clean house when I get treatment. I rush to cook, clean, or order food because I won’t feel like cooking. Anxiety is to make sure things are all right before treatment. If I don’t get everything done I will try to do it in the week of therapy and it will only add to my fatigue. This is when it gets frustrating.
Sometimes it just closed. Two treatments ago, I cried and cried because I was so exhausted I couldn’t believe I had to deal with this. I cried all week. I didn’t want to talk to anyone or get into social media. I went into a state of funk. It happens periodically. You are just so tired. Fatigue weighs on you more than ever, no matter how much you sleep.
To help cope with the feelings, I found support through a mentoring program and online. I started seeing a therapist for the first time in my life. I initially thought I could handle this without professional help, but I just couldn’t. Seeing a therapist has helped.
Many of my friends got me books. I tried to read it, but I read 20 pages and just couldn’t do it. I started listening to podcasts and this works better for me. Those seem to help. I listen to a lot of music, especially during my treatment weeks. Slow and soft music seems to help a bit. I take bubble baths, and I’ve never done that before. Relax in the bathtub with candles. This helps a lot.
You have to give her time. I wasn’t immediately able to talk about this the way I am. I had to take the time to absorb the reality of cancer and then I could share my story. Awareness is very important, especially in lung cancer.
Through it all, I find reasons to celebrate. I am 35 years old this year. It’s another birthday, but it’s also another year to celebrate I’m Still Here. Celebrate everyone’s birthday. Celebrate the rays. I had one a couple of weeks ago and it was really good. I make sure to celebrate any little thing. Before cancer, I didn’t. I celebrated birthdays but not to the extreme. Now, this is very important to me. It doesn’t have to be anything big. Any small case, I make it festive. This experience has turned me into a more positive human being. It sounds crazy. You think the opposite. But I am more positive in life than before.