Lung Cancer Survivor Wants Women To Know “The Ones Who Survive Are The Ones Who Get Up”

Susan Lee lung cancer

A terrible pain in Susan Lee’s shoulder forced her into an orthopedic doctor’s office in 2014.

The mother of three was an avid exerciser. So, she figured it wasn’t anything more than a rotator cuff tear, which can be treated with medicine, physical therapy or minor surgery. The physician took photos of her shoulder through an MRI, and Lee went on her way.

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When she returned to pick up her MRI results from the radiologist, Lee couldn’t believe what she read.

“It said something about an incidental finding of a solitary pulmonary nodule,” Lee remembered. She was 53 at the time. “I’m sitting on the side of the road and I’m [thinking], ‘what is that?’ I get my phone out and I’m looking it up online.”

It was stage 1A lung cancer. Lee lost her mother to a decade-long lung cancer battle in December 2009.

Susan Lee lung cancer

Susan with her mother

“Needless to say, I put my phone down and got back on the road and kind of went into a state of shock because I lost my mother to this and it couldn’t be happening to me,” Lee recalled her car ride to her home in Maryland. “I just kept thinking this [couldn’t] be happening to me.”

According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, stage 1A non-small cell lung cancer means the cancer has not yet spread to the lymph nodes or other organs. The cancerous tumor is no more than 3 cm in width.

Lee met with an oncologist to learn more about what was happening with her body. She wanted to advocate for her body and, in order to do so, she had to understand how cancer worked.

She thought of her mother, a longtime smoker. A routine physical revealed her lung cancer at age 63.

Lee’s mother underwent surgery to take out the cancerous tumor, but her family didn’t know what questions to ask. Years later, a quarter-size tumor formed in her brain – migrating directly from her lungs.

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“She didn’t have chemo[therapy] from the lung surgery, but she ended up having radiation from the tumor in the brain,” Lee said. “My mother had a head full of gorgeous hair that she lost. Her scalp turned completely black. Her hair never grew back.”

After a series of strokes and developing dementia, her mother passed away. Though cancer free, it was the complications from the radiation that took her life.

Lee said if her family knew how cancer spreads throughout the body, they would’ve asked the doctor to take a scan of her mother’s brain.

She took that experience and applied it to her fight with lung cancer.