It all began longer ago than I probably know about. I graduated from Georgia State University with a bachelor’s degree in 2002. I moved from Atlanta to St. Simons Island, GA in 2006. I was the Managing Director of a very prestigious hotel and restaurant, working long hours but making a decent living. I had my career, my daughter, and we were living our little dream on this small island in South Georgia. Life was good. My happily ever after began to crumble just before my 33rd birthday in October 2012.
I thought I had a terrible sinus infection. I kept getting migraine like headaches, so my local doctors kept prescribing various antibiotics and pain meds for about a month. The night I first coughed up blood, I was reading a bed time story to my daughter (7 years old at the time). I knew then, something was wrong, seriously wrong.
A few days later I started seeing flashing lights and my depth perception became distorted. A trip to the ER gave me another sinusitis diagnosis and my PCP was getting me a referral to an ENT.
I decided to go visit my family in Atlanta, GA for Thanksgiving 2012. My headaches were ever present and I was taking very strong pain pills every 3 hours, even throughout the night, waiting for the call to get in to an ENT.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving (November 25, 2012), my daughter and I were supposed to drive back to St. Simons Island. It’s about a 5 hour road trip. Unfortunately, the headache had become unbearable. This is when I asked my mom to drive me to Henry Medical Center in Stockbridge, GA.
The hospital did a CT scan and came back with these words, “I wish I had better news, but we see a grey area in your brain. We’ve called Piedmont Atlanta and there is a neurosurgeon that can see you today. We will have an ambulance here within the hour to transport you”.
I was on morphine for the pain, but it wasn’t putting much of a dent in it. I was begging for my father to bring my daughter to the hospital before they transferred me. I needed to see her again, to tell her how much I loved her. I was afraid it was going to be the last chance I had to say it to her. She got there as they were loading me on the ambulance. She was crying and I just hugged her as tight as I could and told her that I would always love her. She begged to come with me, but we all knew that wasn’t going to happen.
That night and the next day were a blur. I was on so many pain medications that I don’t remember anything. The morning of November 27th, 2012 I had a craniotomy to remove the tumor. Later on that day, I got the news that would turn my world upside down. My life, as I knew it, would never be the same again.
“The tumor we removed from your brain originated from somewhere else in your body. We are fairly certain, it came from your lung and you have Stage IV Non Small Cell Lung Cancer”. It was followed by, “this is not curable, but can be treated”. Of course, I wanted to know how much time I had left. The response, “based on what we know now, and everyone is different, my best guess is 12-18 months”.
What? Why? I’ve been through all of the stages of grief. I think Anger was the worst. It wasn’t fair. I’m too young. I have a little girl that needs me. At most points now, when I reflect and talk to God, I get an overwhelming sense of peace and love. These are the things that get me through the day.
My ex and I decided it would be best to be totally honest with our daughter, Karley. So, after my gamma knife radiation and about two weeks in Atlanta, I returned to St. Simons where her dad had been keeping her with him. It was the most difficult conversation I’ve ever had. How do you tell your child that you have cancer that isn’t curable? I don’t break promises. She mostly sat quietly while we explained that this cancer may take my life, but I promised I would never give up. That is a promise that I will never break.
Right before Christmas I discovered I tested positive for the EGFR mutation. This meant I could take Tarceva, a one a day chemo pill. I had opinions from Mayo and MD Anderson. MD Anderson discovered I had cancer throughout both lungs, the mediastinum, and lymph nodes. The cancer in my brain had been removed and any other trace, eradicated by the radiation. Surgery or radiation to the chest was not an option at this point. Maintenance of the disease was the goal.
After being on Tarceva for nearly a year, my PetScan showed that only one tumor remained, the primary. It had also tripled it’s metabolic activity and progressed in size, indicating this tumor had built a resistance to Tarceva. My oncologist radiated my chest (which my insurance denied claiming it wasn’t medically necessary), but it was worth it! My last two PetScans haven’t detected active cancer. And, this month is the 18 month mark! We had no choice but to act fast. We were trying to save my life. I’m not sure that was my insurance company’s intent. Either way, if you aren’t battling cancer, you’re battling insurance companies. It goes along with the territory at this stage.
I’m feeling great. I will be on Tarceva forever and am told one day the cancer will build a resistance and find a way around it. I’m hoping by then, there will be newer and better treatments and praying for a cure! There are side effects, but they are manageable. I’m blessed to have an oncologist that didn’t wait on a referral!
Lung cancer is a horrible disease. I’m still learning to live with it. My daughter is amazing and has handled everything with such strength and grace. Of course I have my bad days, but who doesn’t? My family, friends, church, and community have been so supportive.
I never knew a healthy young woman could get lung cancer. But, I was diagnosed during Lung Cancer Awareness Month. I’m pretty aware now! I am currently serving on the Atlanta Free to Breath 5K fundraiser event this August. I was one of the 5 survivors that walked it last year. This year I will attempt to run some of it.
I have a blog (www.samlmixon.blogspot.com) that has my entire story from the beginning. This is the short version, but I will post updates here as well. I’ve not only posted about cancer on my blog, but about living….because while I’m here, that’s what I plan on doing.