Lung Cancer Survivor
Speak Positive Words To The Atmosphere
Juanita Segura had just turned her life around when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Along with a targeted therapy designed to treat her unique diagnosis, she credits the support of her family, her medical team and her faith with enabling her to live life to the fullest.
My life took a turn in 2011 when I lost my job. My
husband and I were trying to stay afloat with our five children. I became depressed and fell into an unhealthy rut. A friend’s weightlifting gym turned my life around.
I got physically and emotionally fit. I landed a part-time job that gave me flexibility. It was 2014, I was 46 and in the best shape of my life. Then I got a wheeze.
Not long after, I ran into my doctor. She commented on how fabulous I looked, and I told her about the wheezing. That started my long road to a lung cancer diagnosis.
We ruled out asthma, allergies and pneumonia. Then the cough came. It was so bad that I couldn’t finish a sentence without coughing. Friends referred me to a pulmonary specialist. I tried to do breathing tests with the nurse, and I just couldn’t. The specialist reviewed my X-rays from a couple of months before and thought one lobe of a lung seemed enlarged, or “different.” He prescribed a medication and said to call on Monday if I didn’t feel better.
On Monday, I felt so awful I went to the emergency room. Along with my cough, I had extreme tightness in my chest and shortness of breath. We thought we had it figured out when an ER doctor thought I may have a rare fungus in my lungs from pet sitting for a tropical bird. The X-rays didn’t support that, so they ordered a CT scan. It showed fluid in my lung.
I was admitted to the hospital, and my pulmonary specialist came in the evening to see me. He explained that my lung was closed (almost flat), so he ordered a test to remove and test the fluid.
At this point, I panicked. Having cancer was one of my biggest fears. The doctor gave me something to calm down, and I thought about my faith. I believed, but I didn’t go to church. Although, when I got my part-time job, I felt the urge to listen to Christian music and read Bible verses. Looking back, I wonder if God was preparing me to be the person I am today.
When the specialist came into my hospital room with the test results, my husband and I saw the big smile on his face and expected good news. Then the nurse shut the door and he said I had Stage IIIB lung cancer.
We were in shock. “But I don’t even smoke!” I told him. He explained it was adenocarcinoma, the type that is common among non-smokers.
After more tests and treatment discussions, I had chemotherapy and radiation therapy at a well-known cancer center two hours away. My husband researched and asked questions. I felt like he knew everything about lung cancer, which was why he was so angry it took six weeks to get the molecular testing results. On the last day of my treatment, we learned the cancer was ALK+. Had we known earlier, I might have avoided chemotherapy. We decided to get a second opinion.
In the meantime, my relationship with God had taken off. I prayed often. Friends ministered to me. I attended church. At my first visit, the pastor introduced me to the congregation and said, “This is the lady we’ve been praying for!” My heart swelled with gratitude.
The second opinion doctor suggested an oral targeted therapy that would treat the ALK mutation and referred me to a doctor very near my home. I left there very upset because his nurse practitioner told me that my type of cancer was aggressive and I wouldn’t make it five years. I disagreed, telling her I had great faith, but she dismissed me, saying I had maybe 18 months.
My new doctor, however, immediately took my hand and said, “You have a very good chance of beating this, and I’m going to help you.” My hope soared.
Every day I spoke positive words to the atmosphere. “I am healthy. I am going to make it.” I visualized the targeted therapy shooting and destroying the cancer, just like in a video game. With my doctor’s approval, I continued weightlifting to stay healthy and even became a certified trainer.
Follow-up tests showed the treatment was working, and my doctor approved me to take a life-changing trip to Israel with my mother-in-law. A month after I returned in December 2015, test results declared I was NED, no evidence of disease.
In November 2019, despite that nurse practitioner’s prediction, I made it to five years. That same month, tests showed two very small spots on my brain. My diagnosis was upgraded to Stage IV. The disease is stable. And along with going for follow-ups every three months, I trust God’s process.
I live in the moment and enjoy the now. I’m involved in lung cancer advocacy, translating information for lung cancer patients into Spanish. My husband and I travel, and our son has made me a grandma. When I have a bad day, I remind myself how far I’ve come.