Many things have influenced my life personally and professionally in different ways, but I always managed to look for my purpose, my reason, my passion. Then in 2003, I became a caregiver to my mom, when she was diagnosed with stage IIIB lung cancer. There was not a lot of hope at that time with this diagnosis, and it was one of the most terrifying things I ever had to face up until that point in my life.
Fear of Loss
My mother was only 57 years old at the time. I had 3 small children, and I could not fathom her not being a part of their lives. One of the hardest things about this situation for me was not the chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or even seeing her so sick; rather it was the fear I had of losing her. The fear of no longer having Sunday dinners, or family vacations; the fear of my youngest son, who was only 3 years old at the time, not remembering her; the fear that the matriarch of our family might not beat this disease.
The easy part? Taking an active role in her care, and trying in some small way to give back all the love and support she had shown me my entire life. Through good times and bad, she was always there for me; therefore, doing anything other than being there for her, however I could, was not a thought that ever crossed my mind. She was my rock, and it was my turn to try to be hers.
Adjusting Our Caregiving
For the most part, my mother was an easy patient. She was strong and would often hide how she was truly feeling with forced laughter and a smile, especially when the grandkids were around. Forever the fighter, forever the warrior.
Some days, though, were harder than others. Like the day she, my sister, and me shaved her head, or the long days in the infusion room, watching the chemo drip for hours. The radiation burns, and all the other side effects. The days she simply didn’t want to get out of bed, and would beg us to leave her alone. The days when she looked so weak, so fragile, and so scared—those days were hard.
We tried to support our mother in any way we could. We mostly listened to her. Her wants and needs changed throughout the process, and we, in turn, changed accordingly. When she didn’t feel like eating (refused, actually), we would use different strategies to make her eat, until finally she would relent and take a few bites.
When she didn’t want to get out of bed, we would coax her out with a promise that if she would just take a few steps, we would leave her be. When she did not feel like smiling, we would bring in 1 or all 9 of her grandchildren as a reminder that there was always a reason to smile.
What I Learned from My Mother
The curious thing about being a caregiver is that what she gave me during that time was more meaningful than anything I could have done for her. Without even knowing it, she was the one who gave me the strength I needed to be there for her.
In fact, she had given me that strength long before she ever got cancer. She had taught me how to be strong, how not to ever give up, and how to persevere even during the toughest of times. She taught me how to love. In a strange way, we were taking care of each other, and although I wish she never got cancer, being a part of her care team was a beautiful experience.
My mother, Bonnie Addario, won her battle with lung cancer in spite of the odds, and has since gone on to establish 2 lung cancer nonprofit organizations, to continue the fight for all those who have been diagnosed with the disease after her.
This experience has led me to becoming the Chief Patient Officer at the GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer, where I am responsible for patient programming, engagement, and empowerment. Many people assume that my passion and commitment to lung cancer and the people diagnosed with it are the results of my experience with my mom. Of course, that is how it all started, but it has since become so much more than that.
I Found My Purpose
You see, through the experience as a caregiver to my mother, I found my purpose. I found my reason. I found my passion. Since my mother’s lung cancer diagnosis in 2003, I have met so many beautiful people who deserve all the same care and blessings my mother received—they are the reason I choose to stay in this fight through my work at the foundation.
I don’t pretend to know what emotions a diagnosis of lung cancer would evoke in me. But I do know what I have learned from the courageous people I have met through my work with the foundation. The people who wake up every day and, most of those days, in spite of their lung cancer diagnosis, also choose to fight.
The lessons I have learned from working with people diagnosed with lung cancer are:
- Look fear in the eye and say “not today”
- Do the things I think I cannot
- Live my dreams and take risks, because life is happening now
- Be strong, even when I am feeling broken
- Be grateful, even when I feel lost
- Be positive, even when negativity surrounds me
- Be hopeful, even if I have every reason to doubt
- Listening is more important than speaking when someone truly needs you
- People are stronger than you think is possible
- It’s what you don’t worry about that may turn your life upside down
- Our yesterday is not a guarantee for tomorrow.
The GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer
The goal of the GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer (https://go2foundation.org) is to connect with the community and inform people who are diagnosed with lung cancer that they are not alone, that they have options, and there is hope. The foundation members believe that empowered and educated patients have better outcomes—asking questions and knowing the treatment options are a must.
The foundation provides resources and support for patients with lung cancer and their families. For information about advanced lung cancer, visit www.fightlungcancer.com.