Myrtle Chidester's Story
In June of 2005, I noticed an extreme tenderness near my breast bone as I was dressing. I had been moving furniture, cleaning windows and lifting four year olds (grandkids) so I blamed it on that. Within a week I noticed a new pain, deep within the right side of my chest, that reverberated with every heartbeat. It became more and more unbearable and within two days I was unable to sleep.
I was 51 years old and felt very smug about my fitness level. I was consistently running about sixteen miles a week and had completed a half-marathon the year I turned 50. I was very puzzled at this new persistent pain but not panicked. I could not imagine that anything could be seriously wrong as I was doing all the right things."
Because the pain persisted and seemed to be getting worse, I stopped at the Urgent Care after work one afternoon where the doctor seemed a bit puzzled as he ruled out any heart related condition. He sent me home with a muscle relaxer and strict instructions to follow up with my own physician or the ER if things got worse. That night I made my first of several visits to the ER. After a chest X-ray and other testing the diagnosis was inflammation of the cartilage between the ribs. I was loaded up with pain meds and went home for my first sleep in several days. By noon I was in unbearable pain again. I made an appointment with my primary care physician who was unavailable so I was saw his PA. This was one of the worse experiences that I had during the diagnostic process. I literally was in so much pain that I had tears rolling down my face. The first thing that the PA suggested was my pain may be physiological. Anyway, she called in two other doctors and they had me do a bunch of bending and stretching activities and gave me a referral for physical therapy. I left the office sobbing and called my husband from my car in the parking lot. I had no idea what they thought was wrong and I certainly got no relief for the pain. My husband drove from his work and went in to talk to the doctor, but came out with no answers either.
I made another visit to the ER that night and once again, after I was pumped full of morphine and valium, I was able to go home and sleep. Still no diagnosis but I was told to go back to my primary care doctor. This time I was actually seen by that doctor and he told me that I had shingles. I had serious doubts about this diagnosis but I took the medicine and agreed to try it. With no relief at all after twenty-four hours, I called his office and told them there was really something terribly wrong with me and we needed to do something to find out what it was. A CT scan was ordered and I was able to get it done that day.
This was another terrible experience in the diagnosis processes. By this time I was always crying from the pain and the waiting room was full of people staring at me and asking my husband if I was okay. After the scan, the technician came into the crowded waiting room and said loudly, "Mrs. Chidester, do you smoke?" So much for HIPPA. To me she almost seemed gleeful. Anyway, I was not putting two and two together, but after I answered "no" she informed me that my doctor was on the telephone. I was still coherent enough to know that this was not a good sign. I handed the phone to my husband after I heard that I had a mass on my lung. I still had really no comprehension of the diagnosis, but was getting the idea that it was serious.
I was admitted to the hospital for pain control and more diagnostic testing. When those tests were completed, I met my oncologist who told my husband and me that I have lung cancer. I do not remember too much about that except that he was very kind and honest as he told us that it had progressed to the point that there was no cure. There really are no words to relay the shock and devastation that we felt. I never even knew that someone like me could get lung cancer and that most people are diagnosed too late for any chance of a cure.
This was the beginning of my journey with multiple chemo regimens, radiation and cyberknife. As soon as my pain was under control I started to look to my community for some support and information and I found none. I was so miserable — there is nothing worse than feeling as if you are the only one in the world this is happening to. The more that I learned about lung cancer the more angry I was that it is deemed a self-inflicted and thus deserved disease. My goal is that every lung cancer patient and their families have access to the latest treatment information and can find some emotional support. It is also extremely important to me to let people know that if they have lungs, they are at risk. I believe that my diagnosis would have been less traumatic had I and others involved in the diagnostic process had known the facts about lung cancer.
I am looking forward to celebrating the five year mark since my diagnosis of stage IV non small cell lung cancer. I continue with treatment that has allowed the cancer to remain stable.
(Myrtle lost her battle with lung cancer February 20, 2012 but her vision and inspiration to bring awareness to this terrible disease live on through Lung Cancer Connection.)