The Voice

All in the Family

Janet McCarthy’s lung cancer was first detected eight years ago, serendipitously, on her final 5-year follow up MRI for her previously diagnosed breast cancer. Unfortunately, this was not Janet’s first close encounter with lung cancer. Her beloved husband, Jack, had his own battle with lung cancer and eventually succumbed from complications involving an inoperable tumor close to his heart. Sadly, the radiation treatment he received for lung cancer weakened his heart causing a multitude of health issues for 10-years following his initial diagnosis. After multiple hospitalizations due to poor lung function, he made the difficult decision to discontinue hospitalization and treatment. Instead, he chose hospice for support and comfort for the end of his life.

Janet McCarthy
Janet McCarthy pictured in front of “I am a Survivor, Too,” poster.

At the time of Jack’s initial diagnosis for lung cancer, Janet had just enrolled in college to be a radiology technician. Her husband’s diagnosis now meant she had to juggle raising two young children, caring for her husband, and completing school-related requirements. While carrying out these responsibilities, she was conscious of the real possibility she would become the sole provider for herself and children and therefore worked hard continuing her studies. In her words: I knew I needed a career, so I could keep a roof over my head.” With the help of her family, she was able to achieve her goals for a new career.

After her husband’s death, in just a few short years, she would have to face another overwhelming challenge, her own lung cancer diagnosis. Her children were now teenagers, and she agonized over how to share this news with them as they had already lost one parent to lung cancer. It felt important that she at least wait to tell them of her cancer until she knew the specifics of her diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. This burden along with the stress of being a single parent and sole provider for her immediate family weighed heavily on her. She ultimately relied on the help of her family to care for herself and her sons and get through this difficult time.

One of the biggest takeaways Janet has from her experience with lung cancer is understanding the impact of family and friends during this highly stressful time. Having support and care from family and friends during this trying period is truly invaluable for all cancer patients. At the same time, it is so important to recognize the stress and demands lung cancer can have on a family. The diagnosis alone is surely stressful, but with it comes the drain of financial resources and other valuable attributes such as time and employability. Janet worried about how she would survive financially while battling cancer and, in retrospect, thinks it’s important that more emphasis be given to this aspect of a lung cancer diagnosis. To that point, she makes it known that it’s beneficial to be aware of the social services different hospitals may provide.

It’s now been 8 year since Janet’s last lung cancer treatment, but she still has routine chest CT scans to monitor her lungs. As a CT tech, Janet knows how important these follow ups are for monitoring her lung health. With the arrival of COVID-19, she knows she must take special precautious given the fact her lungs are scarred from radiation. Truth be told, while she doesn’t report feeling “overwhelmed” by COVID-19, she admits part of her is “petrified.” To put herself in the best position possible, she has embarked on a health journey at this time, working with a nutritionist, undertaking a new fitness routine, and continuing to work with her pulmonologist.

Janet joined Upstage Lung Cancer’s efforts as a volunteer and board member in 2016 after meeting president and founder, Hildy Grossman at a women’s lung cancer forum. She attended an Upstage concert and knew she wanted to be a part of this organization. Janet manages the Upstage Lung Cancer (ULC) store at benefit concerts and looks forward to when there will be in-theater concerts again. In her dedication, she jumps in to provide event assistance where needed.