Lung Cancer Awareness – Diagnosis of a 21 Year Old Non-Smoker

Hello and welcome to the program. I’m your host Neal Howard here on Health Professional Radio. Our guest is Taylor Bell Duck. Taylor is a nonsmoker and she was diagnosed with lung cancer as a nonsmoker when she was just 21 years old. And she’s joining us here on the program to talk about her journey, her diagnosis and her work in partnering with Your Cancer Game Plan. Welcome to the program Taylor Bell Duck. How are you? Good. Thank you for having me. Your story is one that is inspiring yet a little bit scary. Give us a little bit of background about yourself, you were an athlete and then you got this diagnosis that changed everything? Yes. So imagine being told that you have lung cancer at the age of 21 as a never smoking division one college athlete, that is really my story. So as a young child, I was avid soccer player and very active and had a childhood dream of being able to play Division 1 Soccer at the collegiate level. And I was given that opportunity to play at East Carolina University and got there my freshman year and … obvious … and two-a-days for pre-season and was really enjoying myself. But you know started having some weird complications and particularly numbness and tingling in my toes when I exerted myself at a high level. And so they immediately got me hooked up with the trainerss in the medical team trying to understand what was going on and why I was having this pain. And I had several medical tests done and diagnostics and unfortunately, they were really unable to find anything and so I played through the pain and frustration and just dealt with it. But over the course of the year, it just got more and more disheartening and miserable for me. And so I ultimately made a really difficult decision to stop playing soccer. And so I quit playing at ECU and got involved in other campus activities to try to fill my time because honestly, the only thing I ever really knew was soccer and so I wanted to be engaged in other things and opportunities in college. And so I did that and still just didn’t feel quite right, I was usually pretty tired and had several bouts of pneumonia and reoccurring respiratory infections and I was given a Z-Pak and sent on my way. And then randomly one Saturday afternoon late in the evening, I started have really bad abdominal cramping involving my appendix with rupturing and ended up in the emergency room where they did a CT of my abdomen to rule out appendicitis and it routinely shows parts of your lung. And so incidentally, they found a very large lung mass and it partially collapsed left lung which ultimately led to my diagnosis of lung cancer at the age of 21. But lung cancer is still surrounded by stigma based on how smoking is a major factor. You mentioned some of the struggle and frustration, were there doubts among your peers as to whether or not you were a smoker, what types of things went on as a nonsmoker being diagnosed with this smokers’ disease and at such a young age? Well the stigma is so real and it’s really unfortunate that it is as bad as it is. And I was kind of myself, I was in excellent physical shape – I ate well, I exercise regularly, I was literally the epitome of what youth picture as healthy. And so to hear this diagnosis was not only shocking but really, really scary. And as I tried to empower myself with knowledge and resources and I quickly learned that lung cancer really doesn’t discriminate and then it affects a lot of people. And there is certainly an opportunity to bring awareness to the disease that this can happen to anyone regardless if you smoke or not and that every patient no matter whether or not they smoke or not, deserves the same compassion and understanding that any cancer patient goes through. They personally have made a commitment to raise awareness and to try to defy the stigma that only smokers get lung cancer because this is touching so many people and I’ve been fortunate enough and blessed to survive through this and so I think it’s important that I use my voice to speak up and try to educate others about the disease. Now you’ve been using your voice in partnership with Your Cancer Game Plan, talk about this campaign and your involvement in it? Yes. So I had the opportunity to partner with Merck and other leading cancer advocacy organizations to work on Your Cancer Game Plan which is the program that provides tools and resources to patients focused on kind of three fundamental pillars which are emotional health and well-being, nutrition and health, and then communication and it’s a place where they can get information and resources and become knowledgeable about their disease and what patients go through during a cancer diagnosis to hopefully in touch them and encourage them to become involved and engaged in their care and to to be as knowledgeable as possible because they can ultimately have better outcomes. Now you mentioned communication, emotional well-being and nutrition. All three of those are important, how are they important as they pertain to this campaign and raising awareness? Of course, emotional health has a huge impact on people’s outcomes and survivals. There’s plenty of studies that patients that experience anxiety and emotional issues during a cancer diagnosis, they can truly affect their outcomes and so I think finding resources available to get help with you need it and also finding a partner or someone that you can talk to about your fears and worries and have open communication is really important. We all know that nutrition is a huge piece of every person’s lights regardless if they’re cancer survivor and so getting appropriate health and nutrition is critical during a diagnosis. And then communication is the part that I think is really, really important not only being able to communicate with your friends and family about your diagnosis and your fears and worries … but also being able to communicate with your physicians and your healthcare team. I’ve been really really fortunate to have an awesome team including Scott who’s here today which you’ll have the opportunity to speak with him who’s my physician assistant. But I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for him and my physician team that would send as much time as they did explaining things to me and breaking down really complex health issues, I don’t necessarily know if I would be where I am today. And I think that one of the reasons that we were able to establish such great communication is that I felt empowered to ask questions, I think oftentimes patients sometimes end up in a room and a physician just starts talking and it’s way over their head and very complex and they’re scared to ask anything. And I’m hoping that through Your Cancer Game Plan, it will empower patients to become advocates for themselves and to be encouraged to ask questions even when it’s difficult or they might be embarrassed but to really try to develop a communication strategy and plan with their physician team to answer the questions that they have and they feel comfortable about their plan moving forward. Being in the very unique group of those who are very atypical of lung cancer in the nature of the disease and your age, what advice would you give other folks such as yourself? So I think it’s really important for patients to obviously become educated about their disease to find resources available similar to Your Cancer Game Plan where patients go to, they’ll be able to be connected to other additional lung cancer resources which I think is a cool thing about the program. But I always encourage patients to one get a second opinion because another set of eyes never hurts anything but two, I think it’s really important for patients to receive true multidisciplinary care and the benefit of being at a large academic medical institution or a comprehensive cancer center is that most of those facilities do provide multidisciplinary care and when we say multi-disciplinary care, what we mean is that it’s a team of physicians evaluating your case and coming up with a best plan of care for that patient based on your disease and your history and opportunities to get treatment. And it includes medical oncology, surgical oncologist, thoracic surgeons radiation oncologist, nurse navigators clinical trials, etc. It’s a whole team of people with all their heads together thinking about how the patient can be the most successful and have the best outcome. And I think that it’s so important that if patients can get access to that kind of care that we will really truly change the way that lung cancer is in this country. Taylor Duck, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for taking the time with us here today on Health Professional Radio.
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