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Lung CancerPatient Stories

Lung Cancer Survivor: I Won’t Let Cancer Define Me

Read Melissa Crouse’s resilient story of survival, as she deals with the surprising diagnosis of lung cancer as a nonsmoker.
June 2017 Vol 3 No 3
Melissa Crouse
Fort Myers, FL
Melissa Crouse

Almost 12 years ago, in August 2005, I experienced the 3 biggest life stressors—all within a 1-month timeframe—moving (from Pennsylvania to Florida), changing jobs, and being diagnosed with a devastating illness.

I was required to have a physical exam for my new teaching job, and—BAM—the next thing I knew, I was sitting in a doctor’s office, and being scheduled for a lung resection.

My head was still spinning from hearing the words, “You have lung cancer,” but all I was hearing was “blah, blah, blah, cancer…blah, blah, blah, operation.” I remember saying, “How can I have lung cancer? I don’t smoke.”

Twists and Turns of a Cancer Journey

My “normal” changed at that point. My entire life changed.

This journey has been filled with many twists and turns, and ups and downs, but I’m still here. I’ve even survived 2 life-threatening, treatment-related setbacks. I reached a state of no evidence of disease (or NED), after the lung resection and 1 course of chemo, but 3-and-a-half years later, cancer reared its ugly head again.

This time, it took up residence in my liver, with 17 tumors, and I officially became a patient with stage IV cancer.

I asked my doctor, “How long do I have?” And he said, “3 to 5 years.” He was wrong. I’m still here. Throughout these 12 years, I’ve been soldiering on, and have even continued to teach middle school chorus and orchestra, until December 2015, when the cancer flared up again.

At that point, I decided that it was just too hard to join yet another clinical trial (my fifth) while continuing to work. The last 2 clinical trials took a huge toll on me, and I had to stop the treatments.

Lung Cancer Advocate

So I am now a volunteer advocate and mentor. I began my advocating for lung cancer and mentoring others several years ago. I had to do something to help make sense of the situation. I also started a lung cancer support group in my area, and I am a consumer reviewer for the Department of Defense, where I am a member of a panel that reviews grant proposals.

Lungevity Volunteer

I am also on the Survivor Advisory Council for the LUNGevity Foundation (www.lungevity.org), and I have been to Washington, DC, on many occasions advocating for lung cancer research and attending conferences about cancer.

I was even featured in a documentary in 2015 that was prepared for Lilly Pharmaceuticals and won an Emmy!

I continue to live with stage IV lung cancer, and I refuse to allow it to define me. I stay as active as possible. In addition, I am busy caring for my father, who was recently diagnosed with squamous small-cell cancer in the lymph nodes; and until her recent death on April 11, 2017, at age 93, I was also caring for my mother, who had Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s All About Time

My 3 children have all eventually followed me to Florida, so my life is full. The high points these days are spending time with my grandchildren. That’s what it’s all about—time! Precious time. I treasure every minute, and am grateful that all my children are close by. I am truly blessed.

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Last modified: October 14, 2017