May 25, 2015 | by Emily Bennett Taylor
In June 2012, 28-year-old Emily Bennett Taylor was getting ready to celebrate her second wedding anniversary with her college sweetheart when she discovered that she had Stage 4 lung cancer. Taylor was a former college athlete, had led a healthy and active lifestyle and had never smoked. She quickly began treatment at City of Hope and vowed from Day 1 that she would do whatever it took to survive. After eight rounds of chemotherapy, surgery to remove her right lung and radiation, Taylor is now in remission. Here, Taylor shares how it felt to find out her scans no longer showed evidence of the disease.
It was the first scan that I was nervous about … I mean really nervous. So much was riding on this.
Statistically, two years of clean scans showing No Evidence of Disease (NED) represents a significant milestone and increase in survival for lung cancer patients like myself. But to be honest, I’ve never been one to be too hung up on the statistics.
Rather, the two-year mark was so nerve-wracking because it signified something even bigger – something that cancer so cruelly pauses upon diagnosis – it presented me with the opportunity to finally push play on my life again.
Since my diagnosis in June of 2012 at the age of 28 with Stage 4 lung cancer, I’ve been the cause of so much stress and pain on my family. Of course, they all never complain, but I can easily see the effects. It’s not hard when my husband, Miles, is continually gripping his chest and trying to beat the ulcer out of his stomach. Or, when I call my grandparents and my grandmother cries each time she says goodbye to me. I hate seeing my loved ones hurting over me.
I once asked Miles to just relax and breathe easy, and he told me, “I’ll breathe normally when you’re two years NED.” So, I internalized his comment and earmarked that two-year date. Each night, I’ve prayed and hoped for it to come sooner, as with it, I hoped it would finally bring peace to my family.
Focused on the future – and the desire for a family
Perhaps what loomed largest though was the opportunity to start a family. The first step we took after diagnosis was preserving our fertility, and we were able to save nine embryos. My mentor and fellow lung cancer survivor, Bonnie J. Addario, showed me what was possible post-cancer, and I so admired her relationship with her children and the family she had raised.
So my nine little embryos became my motivation. I was no longer just fighting for myself. I was fighting for my future family. Each morning during meditation, I would picture and see this family. Hold them, love them, imagine a life with them. It fueled me. It inspired me to fight harder. But that dream of a family, like most things after diagnosis, was put on pause.
Even through eight rounds of chemotherapy, surgery to remove of my entire right lung, and follow-up radiation that left me sick for months, Bonnie and her foundation – The Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation – helped me through all the scary and devastating stages of my lung cancer journey. They reminded me again and again of the importance of family, and gave me something more than help; they gave me a new purpose – I’m now a spokesperson and patient advocate for the ALCF, and being able to help other patients is an unbelievable gift. But even so, I felt that my life was still on pause, waiting for the day we could fulfill our dream of starting a family.
So a few weeks ago, as we sat there in the doctor’s room at City of Hope, waiting for the results of my two-year scan, I could hardly control my emotions.
And then Carrie Christiansen, R.N., M.S.N., C.F.N.P., our wonderful nurse practitioner, walked in and in her classic nonchalant way, looked at me and said, “You’re fine!”
I broke down. I sobbed. I fell into Miles and cried. I let years of frustration and fear out of me. He held me and then whispered in my ear, “You’re going to be a mommy.” And I cried even more, but with the biggest smile on my face.
As we shut the car door, ready to head home after seeing Karen Reckamp, M.D., M.S., co-director of City of Hope's Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program, I paused and looked over at the fountain in front of City of Hope. Nearly three years ago, Miles and I and our families had held each other at that fountain after learning I had Stage IV lung cancer. Today, I looked at that same fountain, and just reeled back and screamed, “I’m NED!!!!”
'We can't do it alone'
Now, Miles and I are beyond excited to push play again on life, and start our own family. But the reality is, we can’t do it alone: We will need a surrogate.
We posted a call on my blog asking for volunteers, and were overwhelmed by the response. We did not expect so many enthusiastic responses, including multiple offers from old friends volunteering to be the surrogates for our future family. We feel so fortunate and so loved. We are now in the process of starting our surrogacy journey with a dear family friend, and are one step closer to creating the family that motivated me through my treatment.
Cancer hit “pause” on my life. But with the support of mentors, family and friends, we are finally able to hit “play” again. Now it’s time for the next big post-cancer adventure: baby!
For more details about Emily Bennett Taylor's journey through lung cancer, visit her blog, EmBen Kicks Cancer.
Learn more about lung cancer treatment and research at City of Hope.
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