Lung Cancer Research Foundation board member Colleen Conner Ziegler shared her own cancer treatment story and offered advice for others to prioritize their lung health.
Colleen Conner Ziegler
Board Member, Lung Cancer Research Foundation
“Lung cancer does not discriminate.”
When did you first learn that you had lung cancer?
I first learned May of 2015, and I learned while I was in the emergency department. I had gone into the hospital in the middle of the night, coughing up blood.
Before being diagnosed, were you being proactive about cancer screenings and your health in general?
I was being very proactive. I actually had breast cancer previously. So, I was very, very careful about whatever cancer screening was available to me. Also, I had just had my annual physical in February of 2015, which didn’t indicate any issue that you might think was lung cancer.
How has your treatment journey been?
My treatment journey has been relatively smooth. And I say that because I’m still on my first line of treatment. I haven’t had have a traditional chemo, which I had when treating my breast cancer.
I’m on a TKI, I take eight pills a day. And my scans have always been stable. Every once in a while, something will pop up on my brain MRI, and we take a wait-and-see. I see a neuropsychologist, and whatever’s popped up is usually resolved or been something other than a potential lesion.
So, I’ve been really lucky. The signs are there, but they’re manageable. Fatigue is probably the biggest side effect. Initially, when I started, there was a lot of pretty severe muscle pain and a pretty significant weight gain, which has not gone away. But I’ll take it.
Why do you think it’s important to educate people, especially those in underserved populations, on the risks of lung cancer and the importance of getting screened?
I think the primary thing is teaching people that the only things you need in order to get lung cancer are lungs. I often say that lung cancer does not discriminate. It doesn’t really care what your ethnic background is, if you’re vegan or eat fast food, or if you smoked. I think that underscores the importance of being really proactive with your physicians and being diligent.
I think in underserved communities, this is really important, because it goes beyond lung cancer. There are a lot of factors that go into why people in underserved communities either don’t reach out to physicians, or don’t even know what some of the signs are.
Do you have any advice for our readers about some good ways to be proactive about their lung health?
I think the best way to be proactive is to be educated. And I know that it gets a little murky, because when you are in the earlier stages of lung cancer, you typically don’t have symptoms. So, it gets a little challenging to encourage people to be proactive when they’re not even really sure what they’re supposed to be proactive about.
Honestly, I would say if you have a cough that goes on longer than three weeks, be very proactive with your physician. I would also say that there’s such a great opportunity for medical students, residents, and community doctors to be the ones who lead that action by being proactive with their patients.