Patient tips I’m a never-smoker and a stage 4 lung cancer survivor. What I want you to know

I’m a never-smoker and a stage 4 lung cancer survivor. What I want you to know

In 2015, Khris A. received devastating news she never expected to hear: She had stage 4 lung cancer. At the age of 47. The mom of two immediately felt heartbroken and worried for the future—would she miss graduations, weddings, grandkids? All of it felt suddenly out of reach. Khris underwent a lobectomy and a treatment plan (including immunotherapy) at City of Hope Atlanta. Two years after her lobectomy, Khris celebrated scans that showed no evidence of disease—and met her first grandbaby (five years to the day of her diagnosis). Here, she shares the advice she’d give to others.

  1. Pay attention to your body. I initially developed a bullseye rash, which I thought was a sign of Lyme disease. I went to the doctor for a cough the day I finished my antibiotics. Tests showed I had a lung tumor, and even though I was reassured again and again that it couldn’t be lung cancer, I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer on Oct 15, 2015.
  2. Practice and perfect your version of self-care. For me, this means soaking in a bubble bath, watching the sunset, whatever brings me joy. I try to find these joyful moments in the chaos. My inner dialogue every evening became, “She slipped wearily into her bubble bath with her mug of steamy tea and allowed the trying day to dissolve away.”
  3. If your kids are older, consider including them in your care plan and feelings. I thought a lot about what would bring them comfort when I was gone, so I included them in my care. My son was a junior in college, and my daughter was a senior in high school. My biggest fear or concern was that I wouldn’t be able to see them through the next milestones in their life. There was one time right after my diagnosis when I sat on the front porch swing with my family. I burst into hysterical tears and sobbed that I wanted grandchildren. I think the hardest part for me was the guilt I felt in causing them so much pain, but I wanted to be honest and open with my feelings and fears. It’s who I was as a mom before cancer, and it’s who I wanted to continue being after cancer, too.

  4. Be present for the beautiful moments—big, small and everything in between. I got to see my children graduate high school and college. I danced with my son at his wedding. I helped my daughter through sorority rush and watched her buy her first house. Being there for those milestones after my diagnosis means more than I can put into words. They’re everything, but also don’t forget to find beauty in the present. Live there and make it joyful! This was the biggest lesson for me in my diagnosis. I’d spent my time before my diagnosis living in the future—in the “some days when this thing happens.” You know what I’m talking about—when the kids go to school, when I get the promotion, lose the weight, etc. I was on autopilot like the movie Click, when he fast forwards to the somedays. Living in the moment for me meant seeing beautiful wildflowers growing on the side of the road while leaning my face on the cool glass of the car window to help stop the nausea on my way to treatment.
  5. Take stock of your lifestyle habits. I was sick before the cancer, if we’re being honest. I was always working long hours and eating badly. I was really getting through each day without a thought of what I wanted or needed. The cancer brought me out of this sickness and helped me begin the journey to health—mentally, physically and spiritually. I also took advantage of the registered nutritionist and naturopathic provider. They’re awesome!
  6. Find an exercise program you love. Start where you are—with the advice of your doctor, of course! Gentle yoga on YouTube is where I started. I had bad nausea from the chemotherapy, and yoga helped me feel better. Yoga also helped ease the joint pain from immunotherapy treatments. The physical activity helped my anxiety and helped me function better. I also walked and danced on days when I felt up to something faster paced. My motivation to move changed when I didn’t do it to lose weight, but rather because I liked the way it made me feel.


  7. You aren’t responsible for making others feel better about your cancer diagnosis. Trying to manage others' emotions is futile. It was hard for me to let go of the guilt of causing my family and loved ones pain. This is extra hard for women, I think. Encourage your family to seek help from their friends and mental health professionals. You can love them, but you can’t pick up the extra baggage while you’re fighting your own fight.
  8. You can have a caregiver squad. Don’t hesitate to get a second opinion outside of the hospital system where you live or were initially diagnosed. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the idea of starting over somewhere new, bring someone with you who can help ask questions and take notes to appointments. And don’t forget: You can have multiple caregivers with different skills and strengths! It doesn’t have to be one person. For example, I had a good friend who would come with me and my husband to appointments. She was a nurse and would ask the right questions and take the notes. I know this may be difficult given COVID-19 precautions, but I’d still encourage you to have multiple people in your life to fill different roles. Trust yourself with your treatment plan and be your own advocate with your care team and caregivers.
  9. You’re not your diagnosis. Don’t let it define you. I am not a stage 4 lung cancer patient. I am a stubborn, creative, inquisitive learner with a passion for backpacking, makeup and travel. Who we are doesn’t change with the diagnosis! I would say the diagnosis helped me become more of who I am. It's not the knock down, it’s the get up. Sometimes amid intense pain or sickness, it can seem overwhelming—focusing on getting through the moment. My son would send me sports videos and shorts, and the message was often the same: It’s not the knock down, it’s the get up. I kept that inspiration close on treatment days.

  10. Try to reframe the hard parts of treatment days. For my treatment plan, I drove four -and-a-half hours every other Thursday to Atlanta after a grueling work week. At first, I was overwhelmed with pity for myself, but I had to reframe the drudgery into a positive. My bimonthly treatments became my restorative “spa” weekends. I’d walk to the shops near my hotel for clearance deals. I’d take advantage of the hotel workout room. I’d bring special facials and masks to use. I’d order dinner in, lay in the fluffy hotel bed and watch movies. Cancer treatment days (and the drive) were tough, but the small, special things I’d plan for myself made it a little easier. Believe it or not, I was actually a little sad when my treatment changed to once a month.

A cancer journey can be overwhelming.

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