Conversation with Cancer Survivor Linda Seven

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Linda Seven, who is currently a resident of Olympia, was diagnosed with lung cancer nine years ago.  Here are some of her thoughts on being a survivor.

How did you find out you had cancer?

I got a flyer in the mail from Swedish about a new CT scan they were using as part of a lung-cancer screening study. They were looking for former smokers age 50 and over. It had been 12 years since I quit smoking. I had no symptoms, but I went on kind of a lark to see if I'd done any damage.

I had one test and they called me back for another. That's when they found the tumor. I couldn't believe it. In fact when Dr. Aye [a lung-cancer surgeon at Swedish] called and said we should do surgery right away, I told him I couldn't because I was getting a root canal the next week. My friends said, "Are you crazy?" And I got the surgery. 

Before surgery, I asked Dr. Aye what the chances were that the tumor was cancerous. He said about 70 percent. And he did find cancer, although luckily it was in the early stages. I didn't need chemotherapy or radiation.  Now I get a CT scan every year as part of the study follow-up, and I've been cancer-free since the initial surgery.

How has life changed for you after cancer?

I am so grateful to be here, and I appreciate every day so much more. The fact that cancer can show up even after you've quit smoking kind of boggled my mind. You're going along every day, then "wow", this suddenly shows up.

The cancer didn't alter my life as much as someone who was more seriously ill, but I'm living proof that if you catch lung cancer early, you really have a good chance to survive and do well. I'm convinced that without the CT scan and surgery, I would have been gone within a year or two. Now I have a wonderful husband who I met after cancer, and we have a yellow lab that we love.

Do you worry about the cancer coming back? If so, how do you deal with it?

I think about it, but try not to dwell on it. At one point I bought every cancer book I could find in the bookstore to learn more about it. I know there is a chance it could come back. That worry is always out there, and I can't help thinking about it. But the CT scan I get each year helps reassure me. I'll keep checking on it and if it does come back, I'll just handle it as best I can. 

Is there anything other people could have done during or after your cancer treatment that would have been helpful?

My family and friends supported me in just the right way. I was actually a little secretive about it all myself.  I didn't tell people what was going on until I was in the hospital. It wasn't until I woke up after surgery that I called people and told them about the cancer. Then everyone sent flowers and cards, and once I had recuperated from the surgery, I went out to lunch a lot with friends. I also have a huge family who were extremely supportive, including a sister in Portland who has been a nurse for 30 years. She was really helpful whenever I had questions. 

How are your views on life and living different now, as a cancer survivor?

I don't take anything for granted, and I'm much more aware of things. When I go for a walk with my dog, I look at the scenery and take better notice of what's going on around me. The blinders came off. I never complain anymore, and I used to bitch all the time.  I'm also much more sympathetic and understanding of other people's problems. I wish I'd been that way before, but I had to go through this to figure it out. In looking back, I think this was good for me in many ways and I'm glad it happened.

People like Dr. Aye were wonderful; he's such a great a surgeon. When I have time to stop and think — oh my god. I'd be a goner if they hadn't found the tumor, and basically found it because I went in for a test on a whim. I encourage everyone who can to get checked, especially if you've been a smoker.