Lung Cancer Survivor

Surround yourself with love and support

From the moment Lea Porter was diagnosed with Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer at 56, she chose to fight it. Despite numerous challenges and complications, she continued to be surrounded by her wife, family, friends and coworkers. Today, her cancer is stable, and she is grateful for every day.

After I had a bad cold that wouldn’t go away, I saw a pulmonologist. He sent me to the hospital for a biopsy because he suspected sarcoidosis. Ten days later, the results came back. I had non-small cell lung cancer. I didn’t cry, but I held my wife’s hand and decided immediately that I was going to fight it!

About a week later, the doctor scheduled an MRI of my brain. It revealed a small mass, and my diagnosis officially changed to Stage IV lung cancer. My brother is a stomach cancer survivor, and, when he heard the news, he took my test results to a well-known cancer center in New York. He’d had a good experience with them and wanted me to have the best care from a center that specialized in cancer.

I chose to go with the second opinion from the New York team. The new oncologist recommended a plan to treat my brain first and then focus on the rest of my body. The doctor started with steroids to keep the small mass in my brain in check. Then I had stereotactic radiation therapy to the brain. It seemed to work, but later I started to develop an interrupted speech pattern. I could think about what I wanted to say, but couldn’t say it. My wife recognized something was wrong and took me to the doctor.

They performed a functional MRI and found a mass in my brain that required surgery. They shaved my head and I had brain surgery while completely awake. It was considered successful, and now I get scans every four to six months to make sure the mass has not returned. I was left with some scarring in the brain but no tumors.

Once the brain surgery was finished, the doctor turned to the tumors in my chest. I had more PETs and CTs so the doctor could find the location of the tumors. Once they were found, I started drug therapy. I was only on it a few weeks when I developed a staph infection and had to stop because my doctor said I couldn’t be on any cancer drugs while they were treating the staph infection. The infection was in my right leg and on my back as well, and it affected my kidney function. I spent a month in the hospital and then another month and a half in rehabilitation to learn how to walk again.

After finishing rehabilitation and returning home, I started 30 days of low-dose radiation to my chest for the remaining tumors. But several months later, a CT showed more small tumors in my lungs. This led to thoracic surgery to remove a small piece of my lung. One of the tumors was high enough to affect my left vocal cord, and I lost the ability to speak. We followed surgery with 30 days of low-dose radiation therapy. By then, my voice had not returned, so I had another procedure that included an injection into that cord, but it didn’t bring it back. In yet another surgery, they put a special piece of plastic in my throat, and about 80 to 90 percent of my voice came back.

Following these surgeries, my doctor started me on another drug, and the plan is to stay on it to keep my cancer stable for the foreseeable future. I’ve been so lucky with this drug. I have had no side effects, and it is controlling my cancer.

One of my biggest role models, Melissa Etheridge, called during my treatment journey to encourage me. Her call meant so much to me. I’m a huge fan, and her support as a fellow cancer survivor was inspiring.

Even though I faced many challenges, I felt the support from my wife, family, friends and coworkers. I was especially touched by my aunts, uncles and cousins who visited me and offered encouragement. When I was in the hospital, coworkers came to visit, held my hand and prayed for me. My wife was there practically every day, and family came to visit. I could not have gone through this without them. I also had great support from the hospital. They helped me qualify to receive the drug therapy for free because of my reduced income. I am so grateful.

My advice to others is to keep a positive frame of mind. Find your inner strength. Surround yourself with people. Welcome in everyone. Many people with cancer want to do it alone or keep it a secret, but support is so important. Let more people in to help you as you work to get through this.