43-year-old Cassy Morris of Victoria, Australia is a proud mom of three girls, Tahlia (10), Kiara (6) and Harper (4). She had been visiting an osteopath for some time for trouble with back pain. But when she saw no improvement, her osteopath strongly recommended she ask her general practitioner for an x-ray referral. That was May 5th, 2017. By June 19th, a mere 45 days later, her doctor told her 3 devastating words: “It’s lung cancer”.
Cassy Morris’ Unexpected Lung Cancer Diagnosis
After some back and forth with her general practitioner about getting an x-ray, Cassy convinced them to give her a referral. The results came back with nothing, but her osteopath encouraged her to get an MRI as well. Cassy describes,
“I had the MRI on the 5th of June, and the GP called me back less than two hours later to tell me that the test had shown a 2.3cm nodule in my left lung. The GP reassured me it could be scar tissue from a recent infection, but we needed to do further tests. I was sent for an urgent CT scan, which I had the next day.”
Just two days later, she and her husband got the news that her doctors had actually spotted a second nodule. They followed up with a PET scan, a blood test, a biopsy, and a lung function test.
“I was still trying to remain positive and hopeful that maybe what they found in my lymph nodes was unrelated to the possible benign nodules in my lungs, but I had the sinking feeling it was more than that. “
Then on June 19th, Cassy’s doctor told her the grave news that she had stage IV lung cancer.
“I was stunned and silent, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My first reaction was NO this is not going to be the end of me. I’ve got three young daughters who need me, they need me for a long time. I need to be here for them, I’m not going anywhere. I want to see them grow, I want to see Harper start school, I want to see them finish school, I want to see them get married and have their own kids. I need to be here!” Cassy remembers.
She and her husband waited to tell their daughters the news. Cassy recalls singing them a lullaby that she had sung many times before, but this time, its meaning was much more profound. “Each night, I sing “Goodnight sweetheart” to my girls before they go to sleep, tonight the words meant so much more, and it was through tears that I sang “…I hate to leave you, but I really must go. So, goodnight sweetheart, goodnight.” She told her daughters the whole heartbreaking explanation for why she had been feeling sick the next day.
Today, Cassy is still being treated for lung cancer; through a series of tests and radiation treatments, her tumors have shrunk. She is still a strong advocate for lung cancer awareness. She says, “But what this experience has taught me, is that not enough people are aware of lung cancer as a risk. I know I wasn’t until I got diagnosed.”
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What You Should Know About Lung Cancer- It’s Not Just For Smokers
Lung cancer is the second most diagnosed form of cancer in both men and women. About fourteen percent of all new cancers are lung cancers. In the United States in 2016 alone, there has been about 224,390 new cases of lung cancer and about 158,080 deaths due to lung cancer. Each year more people die from lung cancer than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined, making lung cancer the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women. With the odds of developing lung cancer for men at about 1 in 14 and for women 1 in 17, it’s important to know the signs because catching it early makes all the difference in the long-term success of treatment (1).
Types of lung cancer
There are two main kinds of lung cancer, small cell lung cancer, and non-small cell lung cancer, and a diagnosis for each is made by looking at the cells under a microscope. Small cell lung cancer is more aggressive and forms in the tissues of the lung and can spread to other parts of the body. Under a microscope, the cancer cells look small and oval-shaped. There are three kinds of non-small cell lung cancer, and they are squamous cell carcinoma, large cell carcinoma, and adenocarcinoma, they are more common than small cell lung cancer (2).
The signs and symptoms
But what are the signs that you should be looking out for if you’re on the watch for lung cancer? There are a number of signs and symptoms that will demonstrate with the onset of lung cancer. These are the early signs of lung cancer.
- A cough that worsens or doesn’t go away
- chest pain that is constant and made worse by deep breathing or coughing
- blood stained sputum (mucus and other matter coughed up from the lungs)
- shortness of breath
- frequent chest infections (bronchitis or pneumonia)
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- collapsed lung
- severe shoulder pain (caused by a superior sulcus tumor pressing on a nerve)
- problems in one eye (dropping or weakness of the eyelid, and a smaller pupil)
- reduced or absent perspiration on the same side of the face as the affected eye (3)
Here are the late signs and symptoms of lung cancer.
- The buildup of fluid around the lungs
- bone pain
- difficulty swallowing
- superior vena cava syndrome
- neurological changes (weakness, headache, numbness in a limb, dizziness, seizure)
- enlarge lymph nodes in the neck or above the collarbone (3)
The incidence of lung cancer is strongly related to smoking with about 90 percent of lung cancer cases arising as a result of tobacco. Even people who reside with a smoker are twenty-four percent more at risk of developing lung cancer (4).
Exposure to asbestos is another cause of lung cancer. The fibers are silicate fibers that can persist for a lifetime in lung tissue following exposure to asbestos. As asbestos was used widely as insulation for a long time, it is very probable you’ve been exposed to some without your knowledge. Even though asbestos is banned in the United States, it is still linked to lung cancer and mesothelioma. People exposed to asbestos have a fivefold greater risk of developing lung cancer. The risk multiples if the person is also a smoker (4).
Radon gas is a natural, chemically inert gas that is a product of uranium. It is known to cause lung cancer with an estimated twelve percent of lung cancer deaths attributable to radon gas. The environmental protection agency estimates that one out of every fifteen homes in the U.S. contain dangerous levels of radon gas (4).
Air pollution from cars and industrial by-products are also a source of lung cancer. Up to one percent of cancer deaths are attributable to breathing polluted air. Experts believe that prolonged exposure to polluted air can carry a similar risk as that of passive smoking (4).
(1) Cancer.org. Key statistics for lung cancer http://www.cancer.org/cancer/lungcancer-non-smallcell/detailedguide/non-small-cell-lung-cancer-key-statistics Accessed: December 21, 2016.
(2) PubMed Health. Lung Cancer https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0021885/ Accessed: December 21, 2016.
(3) Canadian cancer society. Signs and symptoms of lung cancer http://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-type/lung/signs-and-symptoms/?region=ab Accessed: December 21, 2016.
(4) Web MD. Causes of lung cancer http://www.webmd.com/lung-cancer/guide/lung-cancer-causes#3 Accessed: December 21, 2016.
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