By Lin McTeague, as told to Keri Wiginton
It was March of 2019. I was lying in bed when my doctor called and said, “It’s lung cancer.” It was surreal, like it was happening to someone else. I’m sure I cried, but I think I was in shock. My husband wasn’t home at the time, and I remember I couldn’t fall back asleep. I just looked out the window at the trees. It was cold outside.
When I met with my oncologist, the first thing I said to her was: I don’t smoke.
Accepting Lung Cancer
I didn’t really think, “This can’t be happening to me.” Obviously, it was. But I did wonder how this could happen. Not only do I not smoke, I’m a vegetarian who eats well. And I’d been a runner for years. I used to do marathons with my daughters.
I kept looking for reasons behind my cancer -- was it because I worked downtown in Chicago? And sometimes I did wonder if people would think I smoked. But I didn’t dwell on that too much. It’s not like anyone deserves lung cancer.
My doctor told me it just happens to some people. There isn’t always something you can point to. On the plus side, I didn’t have any underlying health conditions, and I’d always been really active. Even my age was a good thing. I was only 57. Most people get diagnosed with lung cancer around 70.
I went into treatment with a lot of confidence, thanks to my doctor. But I was scared, too. My second daughter was expecting her first child. Would I even be around for my grandchild’s birth?
At first, I just needed to survive the diagnosis. I leaned heavily on my family, close friends, and belief system. But I also found something within myself. Nobody goes through cancer for you.
I started chemo almost right away. I was in pretty bad shape. My doctor even had me stay in the hospital for treatment. She was afraid I might fall. If that happened, the tumor they found in my leg might break apart. I had to get a rod put in. That’s when they did a biopsy and told me the cancer in my lung had spread. So not only did I have non-small-cell lung cancer, it was metastatic. I was stage IV.
All that bad news was hard to handle. But thankfully, treatment started to help right away. I started to feel better. That was great for morale. And I was heading into summer with all these fun things to do -- it wasn’t 2020 -- and because the chemo shrank the tumors, it was kind of like I got my life back.
Along the way, I became more thankful. I was here for the birth of my granddaughter, Lily. And then I got to see her turn 1. And I felt lucky. It’s almost like I got a second chance.
Finding Your Cancer Community
I’ve recently tapped into online support groups. But before the pandemic, I liked getting out of the house for meetups. That’s something I really needed when I first got diagnosed. I liked the conversation, but it was also nice to have some place to go. Sometimes I’d meet people for yoga. It would break up the day and add this nice touch of sunshine to the middle of my week.
I still follow a couple of Facebook groups, including some for people with EGFR. That’s my specific gene mutation, or change. It’s great to find support with people who are so much like me. But what I realized is that we’re all unique, too. We’re not on the same medication. We don’t approach treatment the same way.
But they know exactly what I’m feeling when I say I’m scared or that I’m nervous about a scan. I don’t have to put a fresh face on it for them, like I find myself doing with my friends and family.
The New Normal
My condition is stable, and I’m doing great. I’m basically the old me these days. But the tumors aren’t gone, and I still get chemo most weeks.
But I do everyday things. I help my 6-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, with e-learning. I watch my 17-month-old granddaughter once a week. I walk my 2 dogs, Clarence and Cody, for an hour or more every day, and I like to get out for 15-20 minutes on my own.
I also spend more time at church. It sounds dark, but I need to be OK with dying. And I think my faith can help me do that.
After my diagnosis, I struggled to accept the fact that I’m just a person. I didn’t want to leave this world without doing more big, good things. I talked to my psychologist about that. And she told me, “Lin, maybe you just want to be remembered.” That really hit home. After that, I was OK.
I’ve decided I’m just going to be grateful for Michael, my husband of 40 years, and the family I’ve helped create. I have four kids. I also have five grandkids, and I’m involved with them. When the pandemic is over, and they all go back to school full-time, I’ll go on to do something else. I don’t know what that’ll be, but I do know it’ll be enough.
And while I’m not the pre-cancer Lin, I’m pretty close. I know if I get sick again, it’ll be tough. But I believe in God and that we’re all on a path. Somewhere along the way, my life is going to end. And how I live it between now and then is my choice. I can be upset. I can lie in bed. I can do whatever I want. I have all those choices. But when my day comes, I’m going to go. Whether I was happy or sad in between now and then is up to me.