My name is Heather Geraghty and I was diagnosed two years ago with Stage 1A Mucoepidermoid Carcinoma lung cancer — I was only 24 years old. It’s hard to say when my cancer first began because my doctor, Dr. Joel Cooper at University of Pennsylvania, says that I had it for years. Dr. Cooper guessed that maybe as many as 5 years I had lung cancer and my middle lobe of my right lung collapsed for one year before it was discovered. For me everything started coming together after having extreme chest pain which led me to my nearest emergency room in Cherry Hill, NJ. At the hospital I received a chest x-ray and CT scan, and a few hours later I was being admitted and prepped for a flexible bronchoscope. The scans I had received showed a mass in the middle lobe of my right lung, which they called a “polyp”. The non-surgical procedure, flexible bronchoscope, was done without success and I was referred to University of Pennsylvania Hospital for a rigid bronchoscope. The rigid was done with success as the doctor was able to obtain a biopsy, however my white blood cells were extremely low and I was right back into the hospital nearby my hometown of Maple Shade, NJ only a few hours after the procedure.
The first time I ever heard the word “cancer” was right after my rigid bronchoscope when the doctor came to my bedside, my mom and dad standing next to me, and he told us how he got the biopsy but the “polyp looked more like cancer”. I don’t even know what was said after that, I just remember him walking away without any explanation. My mom hugged me and my dad stood still.
During this time it was a constant feeling of uncertainty, I didn’t know what was coming next and it was very scary. At this time I started a blog that I now call “Cure Lung Cancer Now” because I didn’t want to constantly repeat myself during whatever treatment that may come. I just had a feeling that it was going to be a long process whether good or bad, this was just going to change my life forever. And on December 28, 2010 it was confirmed that I had lung cancer through the biopsy taken during the rigid bronchoscopy a few weeks before.
I was referred to University of Pennsylvania for my surgery because it was difficult to determine how large my tumor was. I had to have the more invasive surgery done, which I wasn’t looking forward to. I’ve always been a sucker for pain and I’ve never even broken a bone before, so looking an invasive thoracic surgery just seemed surreal to me. It all felt like a really bad dream. I hardly had time to process my diagnosis and it was gone, I became “cancer-free” less than a month after finding out I had cancer. I was out of work for about 4 months and it wasn’t fun not one second I was gone. The pain from the surgery is not like anything I’ve ever experienced before and I hope I never feel it again. I was completely helpless for weeks following my surgery. It was painful to breathe, walk, I couldn’t sleep, I was depressed, and to top things off I didn’t hear from many people especially family members.
During my diagnosis and recovery of lung cancer I had to find my own resources to cope with having cancer, find my own support community, because the people I thought would be there for me were completely non-existent. I got all my support from LUNGevity Foundation, a lung cancer non-profit focused on funding early detection and offering emotional support to survivors and caregivers through their numerous programs. When I met LUNGevity I was instantly connected to other lung cancer survivors from all over the world. I also began to feel empowered as I planned out my first lung cancer fundraiser in my hometown. In addition I expanded my blog to Facebook and started a page called Cure Lung Cancer Now. Overall, I gained a new sense of being after my diagnosis of lung cancer and I didn’t feel so alone anymore.
Today is Friday July 26, 2013 and I am two years still cancer-free. Dr. Cooper doesn’t expect it to come back and I keep on getting really great scans. I last saw him a few weeks ago and he was completely amazed by the remaining lobe on the right side. He said “it’s normal for the lung to expand but I took out two-thirds of your lung and looking at the x-ray it’s almost as though you haven’t lost anything”. Dr. Cooper added that it was amazing especially since it’s only been two years since my surgery.
So what have I learned from cancer? Many things like it hurts, it’s terrifying, the word “cancer” makes people afraid and sometimes people walk away even those you’d always thought you could count on, and without any support community I wouldn’t have survived. I continue to be involved with LUNGevity Foundation by attending their annual events in my area, and now I even coordinate another area event — Breathe Deep South Jersey. It’s the longest running lung cancer walk in south jersey and I am so proud to keep it going! I still blog about lung cancer, I keep up with my Facebook pages as well (I also have the walk page now too). The people who walked away during my diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer are virtually still non-existing, but I’ve learned to either let it go or confront it. I try to remain positive about life but especially about lung cancer, after all I’ve made a lot of friends through this journey and many of them are still undergoing treatment.
Lastly, I wanted to give a shout out to Hildy. I wish you the best with the lung cancer non-profit called Upstage Lung Cancer. I was able to attend the annual Paddlepalooza the other weekend with my grandmother and it was very uplifting. I hope that one day there will be many more events for lung cancer and together we can make as large of impact as many of the other cancers with high funding and survival rates. Thank you for taking the time to read my story. If you have any questions please feel free to e-mail me at:LungCancerFundraiser.