In October 2013, I got a bad cold with typical symptoms (congestion, cough, aches). The cold dragged on for much longer than usual, so I finally went to the doctor on November 2. The doctor ordered a chest X-ray, declared my lungs clear, told me I had a viral infection and sent me home with an Rx for codeine cough syrup. I later learned that X-rays rarely detect lung cancer until it is very advanced. A low-dose CT is a much better tool for lung cancer screening.
My cold improved slightly, but a dry cough lingered on and on. So, I went back to the doctor on December 2. This time the doctor told me I had irritated airways and gave me an Rx for an albuterol inhaler and a Z-pack of antibiotics “just in case.” Despite the meds, the cough persisted, and in fact I started coughing up a bit of orange stuff (blood), so I went back to the doctor on December 18.
Again the doctor told me that it was irritated airways, but upped my prescription to steroids, giving me an Rx for an Advair inhaler, and then prednisone. I flew out of town to visit my parents for the holidays and despite the drugs, the cough continued to get worse. My mom pushed me to get another chest Xray, which I did, visiting an ER on December 26. The ER doctor told me I had pneumonia and suggested I get a chest CT upon returning home.
I got home on January 2, saw a pulmonologist on January 3 who sent me to get a chest CT that very day. Upon seeing the dramatically bad results, he scheduled me for a lung biopsy asap.
On January 10, 2014, I had a lung biopsy and was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Small Cell Adenocarcinoma. I was admitted to the hospital and started aggressive chemotherapy 2 days later. Scans of my bones, liver and brain show no evidence of spread beyond my lungs (knock wood please!). I have tested positive for the rare ROS1 genomic alteration.
My story of a mis-diagnosed nagging cough for weeks and months on end is a common one in the lung cancer world. I share the details of my two month journey from supposedly clear lungs on my November 2, 2013 X-ray, to lung shitstorm on my January 3, 2014 CT in the hope that it might help others catch their lung cancer earlier. If I had known then what I know now, I would have pushed for a chest CT much sooner. Lung cancer does happen to people who don’t smoke. If you have an unexplained cough for more than three weeks, ask your doctor for a chest CT. It could save your life.