After graduating high school, I decided to go to college at Penn State, which was the best decision of my life! Only about a month into my freshman year, I met Jared – my now fiancé – and we clicked automatically. Things were great! I had started out pre-med, but as time went on, with the goal of becoming a physical therapist, I changed my major to kinesiology.
One day during the fall semester of my sophomore year at PSU, Jared and I were hanging out and I sneezed; the next thing I knew I had a sharp pain in my upper back and lung. When I went to the University Health Center on campus, Dr. Garrison ordered an X-ray to make sure my lung hadn’t collapsed, but, at that point, he thought I had just pulled a muscle. A pulled muscle is exactly what it was, however the X-ray showed a spot on my right lung that looked very abnormal. So, Dr. Garrison immediately referred me to a lung specialist at Mount Nittany Medical Center right there in Centre County.
A few days later, the specialist ordered a PET scan, which sends radioactive chemicals through your body to see if the spot on my lung was actively growing. It was. So, I returned to Mount Nittany a few days later for a bronchoscopy and biopsy of the growth, but the doctor told me I had a tumor of some sort that he was unable to biopsy. The next step? Surgery to remove the tumor. After a lot of thought, I decided I wanted to have the surgery done at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, about 100 miles south of where I was.
At my first appointment at Penn State Hershey, I met with Dr. Mike Reed and Dr. Jenn Toth. I never felt more comfortable around doctors in my life. The next thing I knew, we were scheduling my lung surgery and moving closer to my recovery. At this point, I had to medically withdraw from PSU; I could not keep up with my coursework with numerous appointments and follow-ups with the care team in Hershey. Jared and I had only been together for a year, but that didn’t stop him from being by my side every step of the way.
My journey had begun. On December 14, 2012, my surgeons removed 18 percent of my right lung. From January to April, I had four rounds of chemotherapy. During the times I was at the Medical Center, Dr. Toth and Dr. Reed would visit me and bring me coffee and snacks. It was a relationship I had never had with doctors before. They proved how much they cared and I was able to put all of my trust into them.
Once chemo was finished, I began nine weeks of radiation therapy. The first time I sat down with my radiation doctor, he completely spelled out my disease for me. He said, “You have stage II non-small cell lung cancer.” Up to that point, I knew I had cancer, but no one had said the words to me. It was the scariest thing to finally hear my diagnosis – my new reality.
Thankfully, I am now considered ‘N.E.D.’ (No Evidence of Disease). Every six months, I must be scanned, but so far, so good! When I look back, the people who surrounded me at this time are the reasons I made it through this ordeal: Jared; my parents; my two little sisters, Rylee and Madison; and my doctors. I would tell people going through a similar experience a few things. One would be to trust your doctors. I have come to learn that they want what is best for you, and they have chosen this profession for a reason. Two would be to continue to live your life – don’t let a diagnosis stop you! I still made sure to visit Jared, to go out to dinner, and to do the fun things that my body was able to handle. The third thing would be to surround yourself with people who love you, and to allow them to support you and help you through this time. I could not have done it without my family, Jared, Jared’s family, and my close friends.
When Jared and I were together during my treatment, he always tried to take my mind off of my illness. He treated me like I was not sick, and like everything was still normal. I knew then that I would never want to be without him. Jared proposed to me in June 2014 at Niagara Falls! And, in 2016, we plan to be married just outside of State College, where it all began, in a barn-type setting. I see great times ahead – for both of us!