Nita S.

"You're only faced with challenges you're equipped to handle."

I don't remember when I first heard that but I was very young at the time, and it left an impression. Because I sailed through the early years of my life with very few problems, I suspected I must just be weak, ill-equipped. All that changed when I was diagnosed with lung cancer. My kids were 8 and 5. I was NOT done. Nope.

I started getting sick in 2001. After being treated for asthma and increasingly worse bouts of pneumonia, a CT scan in 2003 revealed a tumor hidden in my airway. The extended illness caused me to miss a lot of work, putting us in financial distress before the cancer was even diagnosed. Thankfully my CT scan was covered by health insurance, because if I had to pay out of pocket, I'm certain I'd have declined the CT. Even now it's chilling to think about and I am so grateful!

The growing tumor caused the pneumonia, and asthma-like symptoms. In the next few days, a surgeon removed two thirds of my right lung. The cancer was stage 2B. I spent the next 17 days in the hospital. I remember swimming up to the daylight thinking...I'm alive?! Okay...keep...breathing.

During recovery, I started searching for support groups. I thought I'd found one, but a woman kindly informed me I couldn't join because it was for breast cancer survivors only. Jeez. There were so many breast cancer support groups, but not many for lung cancer. So I did my own therapy making Christmas ornaments. It required no strength and relatively little thinking--perfect for my scrambled brain. And more importantly, it was a reminder of all the Christmases I was determined to be alive for. Today some of the early ornaments make me smile because they're just strange. I still make ornaments in celebration of seeing the next Christmas, and after 11 years of practice they've gotten prettier.

Thank you to Teresa, Kellie and Jessie at the American Lung Association for your work in raising awareness about lung cancer and reminding me how lucky I am.