By Natalie Brown, told to Kendall Morgan
When I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at age 33, I had to make many difficult decisions quickly, including freezing my eggs before starting treatment or not being able to have children. We decided to continue treatment immediately. At the beginning of the treatment, I felt very bad. I was exhausted and couldn’t do much. It took time to accept the diagnosis. How I feel mentally is still changing 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 does. It’s going surprisingly well for Stage IV, so let’s start there. But I say emotionally, every treatment is completely different. Sometimes I can go through treatment and it’s like, “Hey, I’ve got 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 the treatment. I will do everything I can before the meds kick in. I am still working and it is very difficult trying to work and undergo treatment at the same time. If I have a treatment on Monday, I will do everything I can because on Wednesday or Thursday, I may not want to climb the stairs anymore.
Emotionally, it’s everywhere. It’s like a roller coaster. Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re depressed. It’s a complex combination of emotions with treatment every 3 weeks. I know I’ll be down for a week, so I’ll rush and stress. I will make sure all clothes are washed. My husband helps, of course, but I want a clean house when I’m in treatment. I rush to cook, clean or order food because I don’t feel like cooking. It’s a lot of anxiety to make sure everything is perfect before the treatment. If I can’t do everything, I will try to do it during the treatment week and it will make me more tired. This is where it gets frustrating.
Sometimes I just close. Two treatments ago, I cried and cried because I was so tired I couldn’t believe I had to deal with this. I cried all week. I didn’t want to talk to anyone or on social media. I walked into a funk. It happens periodically. You are so tired. Fatigue weighs on you the most, no matter how long you sleep.
To help with the emotions, I found support through a mentoring program and online. I started seeing a therapist for the first time in my life. I thought at first that I could handle this without professional help, but I couldn’t. Seeing a therapist helped.
Many friends gave me books. I tried to read them, but I had read 20 pages and just couldn’t do it. I started listening to podcasts and it’s better for me. These seem to help. I listen to a lot of music, especially during the weeks of treatment. Slow, soft music seems to help a little. I take bubble baths, and I’ve never done one before. Relaxing in a bathtub with candles. It helps a lot.
You have to give it time. I wasn’t immediately able to talk about it like I am now. I had to take the time to digest having cancer and then I was able to share my story. Awareness is extremely important, especially in the case of lung cancer.
Through it all, I find reason to celebrate. I’m 35 this year. It’s another anniversary, but it’s also another year to celebrate that I’m still here. I celebrate everyone’s birthday. I celebrate scans. I had one a few weeks ago that was really good. I make sure to celebrate any little thing. Before cancer, I didn’t do that. I celebrated birthdays but not to the extreme. Now this is super important to me. It doesn’t have to be big. Any small situation, I make it festive. This experience made me a more positive human being. It sounds crazy. You would think otherwise. But I’m so much more positive in life than before.