Every five minutes, a woman in the U.S. is diagnosed with lung cancer. I recently sat down with Jutta Becker, a lung cancer survivor, to learn about her journey with lung cancer and her mission to educate others on the prevalence of lung cancer in women.
EHB: Tell me about the journey you went through to be diagnosed?
JB: During the summer of 2012, I developed a cough which I thought was from allergies. Then one day - as I was getting dressed - I thought I pulled a muscle. I visited my doctor and after taking a few x-rays, I learned that I had pneumonia. My doctor also thought I may have fractured a rib from the coughing.
I had a cough from pneumonia but it wasn't the first time I had pneumonia. Typically when I get a bad cold, it turns into a bad upper respiratory infection so it wasn't a new occurrence.
I was given antibiotics and was asked to return for a follow-up in four weeks. During that time, my cough, muscle pain and rib pain just got progressively worse and my doctor advised me to either go to the ER or try a different antibiotic. Given the condition I was in, I chose going to the ER.
EHB: Before your diagnosis, what did you know about lung cancer?
JB: I really didn't know anything about lung cancer before my diagnosis. I saw lung cancer as a smoker's disease and I was never a smoker. I thought that people in heavy industries, such as coal mining, who inhale toxic chemicals got lung cancer. I never thought of it as a disease affecting women on a grand scale, but it does. I want people to know that.
EHB: What did your journey with lung cancer teach you about yourself?
JB: I learned that I'm strong. When I was diagnosed I went to work learning as much as I could about lung cancer treatments. Searching the internet to find people with the same diagnosis helped me in the beginning of my journey, but when those same people passed away, it was devastating to me. I switched to fundraising and advocating for myself and others. Now I'm the person people contact because I've been on this journey against most odds for almost three years.
EHB: How has lung cancer changed your perspective?
JB: I realize how precious life and time is and how quickly your life can change at a moment's notice. I'm a much more straightforward person now and focus on being honest with the people around me. My husband says I've lost my filter! I find that I say "no" to things more than I used to before my diagnosis. I'm even more sarcastic now and sometimes in a bit of denial.
I really try to focus on spending time with the people in my life who are the most important to me and will only attend events for and with really good friends and family.
EHB: What advice would you give to others who are living with lung cancer?
JB: It's really important to educate yourself and serve as your own advocate. Make sure you get all the scans you need and make use of all diagnostic tools. It's also important to find a doctor who is committed to fighting for your life and committed to helping you establish a good quality of life. Keep in mind that a second opinion can save your life. It's also very important to build a team of oncologists, pulmonary, palliative, alternative treatments, mental health, social and spiritual support.
EHB: How has being involved in LUNG FORCE impacted your life since your diagnosis?
JB: I have joined the LUNG FORCE initiative by serving as a spokesperson and advocate for the cause. I'm also recruiting and fundraising for the LUNG FORCE Walk in Rhode Island on June 13 and serving as a volunteer speaker. My hope is that by sharing my story, I will inspire people who are living with cancer and help them find strength and encouragement during their journey.
Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of women. Through its LUNG FORCE in-store fundraising campaign, CVS Health is educating Americans about the dangers of lung cancer, while raising funds that are needed to beat this disease. Customers nationwide supported this year’s campaign which ended on May 30. Anyone can support LUNG FORCE by participating or supporting a LUNG FORCE Walk. To find a Walk in your area, please visit http://www.lungforce.org/runwalk. By joining together we can all help make an impact and help beat lung cancer.