Lung Cancer Connection - Support, Education, Research, Hope

Carol Becker's Story

In January of 2005 I was not feeling well, but didn’t think too much about it because up until that point, I was very physically fit and active. I walked, biked, hiked, and worked out regularly. I ate healthily and had a healthy lifestyle. I was a counselor in a middle school and I had a part time private counseling practice. I had lots of friends and had an active social life.

Then, in February I came down with the flu. I called my internist, Dr. Charles Rehm, and asked him for Tamiflu. I took the flu medication, but was not getting any better. I called Dr. Rehm again and he asked me to come in to see him. I was very sick with a fever and the typical flu body aches, but managed to get in to his office. I had no cough. Dr. Rehm said that he wanted to give me a chest x-ray. While looking at the x-ray, we could both see a spot about the size of a half dollar in my lower right lung. Dr. Rehm thought that it wasn’t anything to be concerned about, but that he would recommend a CT scan once I got over the flu.

I had to go to the hospital to recover from the flu because I was so sick. After I was better, I had the CT scan of my lungs. It came back inconclusive. Dr. Rehm then quickly arranged for me to see a pulmonologist at St. John’s. The pulmonologist stated that I could get a biopsy, have the tumor removed, or wait and see if the tumor grew. I elected to have a biopsy even though I knew the procedure itself would be very painful. The biopsy results showed that I had adenocarcinoma or lung cancer! I was very shocked and upset.

Dr. Rehm then referred me to a thoracic surgeon. The tumor was small enough that it was able to be removed. Surgery was scheduled at the end of February. The thoracic surgeon took out my lower right lung lobe. I was put on a morphine drip because the surgery was so painful. He also sampled about 24 lymph nodes in the area and no cancer was found in any node. We were elated at that news.

Unfortunately, however, my lung was leaking air and there was fluid build up in the thoracic cavity. After 7 days of x-rays, blood work, shots and other procedures, the surgeon’s team thought it would be safe to pull the second drain tube. I was sent home and everyone was hopeful that I would make a speedy recovery and be able to go back to work shortly. That didn’t happen.

I started running a high fever and was coughing up phlegm from the lung area. I was readmitted to the hospital after being home only 10 days or so. This time I was very sick. The thoracic surgeon tried to remove the fluid that was infected by sticking a long needle in my back three times. He was unsuccessful. I finally had to have a tube inserted in my back going into the fluid area to drain it off. I also had a pic line put in my arm so injections of antibiotics could be administered at home. While I was in the hospital for those 
8 days, I had an allergic reaction to one of the antibiotics the Centers for Disease control doctor thought I needed. (I have many allergies to antibiotics so it was difficult to figure out which one I could tolerate.) I also had many more x-rays, CT scans, blood work drawings, and other injections. I remember feeling unsure if I was going to survive, but I know that the Lord was carrying me at that point. Many people were praying.

After 8 days, I was sent home. My daughter, Heather, was taught how to give me my antibiotic through the pic line. It had to be administered 3 times a day. I also had two nurses that came three times a week to draw blood and to empty the fluid from the sac on my back. My white counts started dropping. They continued to drop to dangerously low levels. The nurse told me to call the doctor. After talking the Centers for Disease Control doctor, he said there was nothing that could be done. So at a friend’s urging, I called my oncologist. He saw me immediately. After conferring with my other doctors, he took charge of my case. He had the pic line removed from my arm and had the thoracic surgeon remove the line that was in my lung cavity. He conferred with other research oncologists about what to do and decided to try neupogen injections in my hip to see if that would help my bone marrow start producing white blood cells again. The procedures that took place during this period of time were very painful.)

Thankfully, the shots of neupogen did cause my bone marrow to start producing white cells again. But, once again, I was not “out of the woods”. I developed C-Diff which is a very serious intestinal infection. It causes many deaths in nursing homes. Once again, Dr. Eckhardt, my oncologist, recommended that I take Vancomyacin after the drug, Flagill, didn’t work. After two rounds of Vancomyacin, I was finally infection free.

By this time it was 4 months since the original lung surgery so I could not do the back up chemotherapy that was recommended.

I have been cancer free for over 4 years now. My health has never been the same, however. I have massive scarring in the thoracic area and as a result, have pain regularly and mild fibromyalgia. I also had a very bad case of shingles in September of 2007, and after that, I decided to retire. I have battled hard to get back to exercising on a regular basis. I do work out now at the gym, walk, hike, and bike again. I celebrate life as much as I can by traveling, being with friends and family, gardening, reading, and viewing aspects of life differently.

I realize that the pain that I have endured is more that most people would ever dream of enduring in a lifetime. I am so very thankful to the Lord, however, for getting me through it all. Each day that I have left, I want to thank Him and bring a ray of sunshine into someone else’s life. I am also very thankful to all the friends and family members who were there for me and are there for me now. I am also so very appreciative to Dr. Charles Rehm who saved my life by being sensitive enough to give me a chest x-ray. I am also thankful to Dr. John Eckhardt who saved my life during my recovery for caring enough to be aggressive and creative in treating all of my infections.