Mercy Hospital & Health Services Contact Us
About Mercy
Join Our Team
set font size large set font size medium set font size small
email this page print this page
Health Article Banner
Women's Health

Mercy Women's Care at St. Anne
3404 W. Sylvania Avenue
Toledo, OH 43623

Mercy Women's Care at St. Charles
Navarre Medical Plaza
2702 Navarre Avenue
Suite 101
Oregon, OH 43616

Mercy Women's Care at St. V's
2213 Cherry Street
Toledo, OH 43608

A Portrait of Patricia, New Lung Cancer Patient


You might think that a person who finds out she has inoperable lung cancer-advanced, aggressive cancer that can't be operated on successfully-would feel extremely angry, afraid, or depressed. But you probably don't know Patricia, who may be feeling those emotions, but if she is, she's not letting on.

She'll be 78 this winter, and she found out in the summer that she had advanced lung cancer. She's been smoking since she was about 16 years old. "I was having abdominal cramps," she said, "and I had a scan for that. That's when they noticed 'some little trouble' in my lungs," she says matter-of-factly.

"Then I went to a pulmonologist," she says, "and he said I had to have more scans done." At this point, Patricia still hadn't told her three adult children that anything was going on. She says she knew by then that she had lung cancer, even though nobody had told her she did, and it sounds as though she had accepted the idea of it fairly well. She didn't see any need to upset her children, who were about to take summer vacations.

One wonders whether Patricia also felt that as long as she didn't tell people she might have lung cancer, she'd be able to live her life without a fuss. She lives by herself and works one day a week in a second-hand antique furniture store. She's always enjoyed an active social life; even after her husband died, she continued to go out and socialize with friends. And she's never stopped enjoying her cigarettes all day and night and a drink or two in the evening. She felt fine, so why get everybody all upset?

"Then," she says, "they said I needed a bronchoscopy." This is a biopsy of lung tissue, and it's generally the test that confirms whether cancer is present. For this test, she would need someone to drive her to the hospital and drive her home. "That's when I knew I couldn't keep this quiet anymore," she says. But still, her children were in the midst of their summer travels, so she asked her friend Janet to take her for the test.

Janet went with her to hear the test results. "The pulmonologist was very quick," says Patricia. "I sat down and he said, 'You have inoperable lung cancer and it's aggressive. You have to do something about it right away."

Luckily, Patricia's daughter Mairi Pat, who's now an attorney and who used to work as a nurse, was just returning from a trip to Ireland. Patricia told Mairi Pat the news. Together, they went to see an oncologist, and then to another oncologist for a second opinion.

By this time, Patricia had told her two other children as well, and her sister and nieces. Everybody gathered at dinner one night at Patricia's sister's house to talk about things with Patricia. The oncologists had told Patricia that chemotherapy was her best treatment option. They said that someone with the type of cancer she had who underwent chemotherapy would have an average of two years to live. Without treatment, they said she probably would have about six months.

Patricia didn't like the idea of chemotherapy. She had watched one of her sisters die of ovarian cancer, and that sister had been sick from her treatments. But the doctors had told Patricia that there was now medication to control nausea after chemotherapy. They said she probably wouldn't feel terribly sick from her treatments, just tired.

While she didn't like the idea of chemotherapy, Patricia also didn't like the idea of living for only six more months. "That's too quick," she says. "I don't think I could get everything done in time. But two years, that doesn't seem so bad. I mean, I'm 78. Something's going to get me at some point. Besides," she said, "the kids are saying they want me around as long as possible."

So Patricia has begun treatment. Mairi Pat has gone to almost all of the appointments with her, serving as another set of ears, writing things down, keeping track of things in writing. She and her sister help their mother remember to take her pills, to take her temperature twice a day, to take care of herself in general. "I have two daughters who check in like the police," Patricia says.

She points out that having Mairi Pat go with her to all her doctors' appointments has been invaluable. "She's helped me wade through all the information about chemo and medications," she said. "I don't know what I would do if I didn't have her."

Patricia says that anyone who finds out they have cancer should not be shy to ask a friend or family member to go with them to their appointments, especially in the beginning. "Because when you find out you have something like this, you can act all right, not act like you're devastated, but you still have 50 million things going through your mind. There's no way you can remember it all. You can't take it all in.

"If you don't have a friend or family member to help you," she says, "you should take advantage of the services the hospital offers. It's really important."

So far, her treatment hasn't made her feel bad at all. Some of her blood counts are low, indicating that her immune system isn't functioning the way it should, and her doctors have told her it's best to stay away from public places. For Patricia, the hardest part about that is not going to work. "Who are they going to get to work in the store?" she worries.

And as is so common with chemotherapy treatment, her hair has fallen out, and that's been hard. "The worst part right now," she says, "is losing my hair. It's so awful. It makes me cry every time I mention it."

Over all, when it comes to Patricia and her family, the impression is that everybody else is sadder and more upset than Patricia herself. There are lots of tears, but mostly from the kids. And her children wish she had told them about the possibility of lung cancer as soon as that first scan showed, as Patricia put it, "some little trouble" in her lungs.

"What was going through your mind," Mairi Pat asks her, "when you were having all those tests and you weren't telling anybody?"

"Listen," says Patricia, "if I were a young woman with three young children, I would be going crazy, I'd be so upset. But in a way, I feel like I'm lucky. I've got time to plan. I'm not like someone who suddenly has a stroke and can't say or do anything. I can take care of my will the way I want to. I can look around and say, 'You get this and you get this…'

"I'm 77 years old," she continues, "and I've been smoking all these years. I figured, 'This is the breaks of the game.' I've had a good life. I've got to go some time. It could be a lot worse than this."

For more information about lung cancer, read here:. OCTOBER 2005 and DECEMBER 2003 Cancer E-Magazines.

Personal Interview With "Patricia"
follow us online
facebook youtube

Contact us
Home  |  Sitemap

Disclaimer & Terms of Use  |  Privacy Statement  |  Notice of Privacy Practices
Copyright ©2016 Mercy. Last modified 9/27/2010