'I Never Considered Lung Cancer a Risk' -- What This Non-Smoking Mom Wants You to Know

nancy smith and family

Nancy Smith, 52, has always eaten well, exercised regularly, and been in good health. And because she's never been a smoker, "I never considered lung cancer a risk for me," says the mom of two teenage boys.

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You know what's coming.

In the fall of 2013, Nancy started to feel run-down. She had a cough that wouldn't let up and an odd pain in her left shoulder. When going up a flight of stairs in her McComb, Mississippi, home left her out of breath in early 2014, Nancy called her husband, Scott, at work and said, "Something's not right."

Luckily, Scott's an emergency medicine physician. He had Nancy come in for a chest X-ray. The results indicated pneumonia. But when 10 days of antibiotics didn't do the trick, Scott insisted on a follow-up X-ray.

The day she had it done "is the day my life changed forever," says Nancy.

The X-ray revealed a tumor the size of a lemon. Nancy -- who'd never smoked a day in her life, remember? -- had lung cancer.

Over the next few months, Nancy's left lung was surgically removed. She endured round after round of chemo to ensure the cancer was stopped for good. "I was determined to beat this and reclaim my life," says Nancy.

And she has -- Nancy's been cancer-free since July 2015.

Here, in an exclusive to CafeMom, Nancy describes her journey to get well and what she wants every woman to know about this insidious disease.

What immediately went through your head when you were told you had lung cancer?
My sweet boys -- would I live long enough to see them grow up? And my mom. I lost a sister in a car wreck when I was 15 and she was 19. I thought my sweet, kind mother could not suffer another loss. She has been so strong and such a good role model for me -- I don't think she could handle losing another child.

Have doctors determined what caused your lung cancer?
[My doctor] made the statement that it was probably something in my environment, since I was a non-smoker. My parents never smoked. We had our home professionally tested for radon and that was normal, and I can't recall being overexposed to chemicals. We will probably never know.

Most people believe that if they don't smoke, they don't have to worry about lung cancer. Was that your mindset too?
As a female, breast cancer was more on the top of my health radar. I never even considered lung cancer to be a risk for me. But [after my diagnosis] I began to look at all the chemicals in cleaning and personal care products that I use in my home. I now use all-natural and certified non-toxic household cleaning products. In fact, I have started my own part-time business through a company called Go Beyond Natural.

More from The Stir: OMG -- Can Eating Carbs Cause Lung Cancer?

How is your health today?
It's good. I have been cancer-free since my scan from July 2015. I feel great and am very involved in my local and statewide cancer support organizations, especially the American Lung Association's LUNG FORCE. I still teach part-time at our local community college ... I exercise as much as I can -- primarily walking and yoga/stretching classes.

I truly feel better today than I have in five years. I feel that this is my second act and I am determined to make the most of it.

What other lifestyle changes have you made?
I have totally changed my cosmetics, personal care products, and cleaning products with all toxic-free products. I eat healthy and I am very careful about foods I eat. I ask myself before I eat, "Does this food build my body up or tear me down?"

I have virtually eliminated processed foods from my diet. If it comes from a bag, box, or can, I don't eat it. Eating and exercise are two things I can control and that I know directly impact my health.

What advice can you pass on to other women who are also struggling with lung cancer?
Be your own advocate. Even though I am married to a wonderful doctor, it is still up to me. Find other women going through the same thing and ask for their advice and support. Get a second opinion and find a medical team that you trust.

Lung cancer is not a death sentence -- but we have a lot to do to win the battle ... It has helped me, through articles like this, to feel like I am giving back and helping another woman facing this same struggle.

And keep the faith. Hope is a great thing. I have a lot of hope and can't wait to see what's next.

 

 

Image courtesy of Nancy Smith

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