By Natalie Brown, as told to Kendall Morgan
When I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at the age of 33, I quickly had to make many difficult decisions, including whether to freeze my eggs before starting treatment or not to have children. We decided to proceed with the treatment immediately. At the beginning of the treatment I felt terrible. I was exhausted and there was little I could do. It took me a while to come to terms with the diagnosis. How I feel mentally is still changing from day to day.
Overall, the emotional impact and experience was not what I initially expected. I didn’t expect the treatment to go the way it’s going. Things are going surprisingly well for Stage IV, so let’s start there. But I say emotionally, every treatment is completely different. Sometimes I can get treatment and it’s like, ‘Hey, I have chemo.’ Sometimes it’s like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe I have lung cancer. I can’t believe I have to inject poison into my body.”
I need to change my life around the treatment. I will do as much as I can before the medication takes effect. I’m still working and it’s very difficult trying to work and being in treatment at the same time. If I am being treated on a Monday I will do everything I can because on Wednesday or Thursday I may get tired of walking up the steps.
It’s emotional everywhere. It’s like a roller coaster. Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down. It is a complex combination of emotions with a treatment every 3 weeks. I know I’ll be out for a week so I’ll rush and stress. I make sure all the clothes are washed. My husband helps of course, but I want a clean house when I’m in treatment. I rush around, cook, clean, or order food because I don’t feel like cooking. It’s a lot of anxiety to make sure things are perfect before treatment. If I don’t manage everything, I try to do it during the week of treatment and it makes me even more tired. That’s where it gets frustrating.
Sometimes I just switch off. Two treatments ago I cried and cried because I was so tired I couldn’t believe I had to deal with it. I’ve been crying all week. I didn’t want to talk to anyone or go on social media. I got caught in a funk. It happens periodically. you’re just so tired Fatigue weighs you down the most, no matter how much you sleep.
To help with the emotions, I found support through a mentoring program and online. I started seeing a therapist for the first time in my life. At first I thought I could handle this without professional help, but I couldn’t. Seeing a therapist helped.
Many friends have given me books. I tried to read them but I had read 20 pages and just couldn’t. I started listening to podcasts and this is better for me. They seem to help. I listen to a lot of music, especially during the weeks of treatment. Slow, soft music seems to help a little. I take bubble baths and I’ve never done that before. Relax in a tub with candles. That helps a lot.
You have to give him time. I wasn’t immediately able to talk about how I am now. I had to take the time to digest the fact of cancer and then I could tell my story. Awareness is extremely important, especially with lung cancer.
All of this gives me reasons to celebrate. I’m turning 35 this year. It’s another birthday, but it’s also another year of celebrating that I’m still here. I celebrate every birthday. I celebrate scans. I had one a few weeks ago that was really good. I make sure to celebrate every little thing. I didn’t do that before cancer. I’ve celebrated birthdays, but not over the top. That’s super important to me now. It doesn’t have to be anything big. Any small situation, I make it solemn. This experience made me a more positive person. It sounds crazy. You would think the opposite. But I’m so much more positive about life than before.