When Amanda Pehrson became a mother for the second time in 2019, she found herself in a situation familiar to many new parents: needing to cut down on living costs. After carefully examining their monthly expenses, the mom from Alabama made the decision to forgo health insurance, a move that would save her family $300 every month.
Just a few months later, in October of the same year, the 28-year-old experienced a cold and persistent cough.
“I was only working part-time, so I made a conscious decision not to have insurance to save money. It was a significant expense, and I believed I wouldn’t need it,” she shared with Newsweek. “Although I had concerns, I tried not to dwell on the worst-case scenario. I didn’t consider it to be anything overly serious.”
Pehrson experienced persistent coughing and shortness of breath for several months, which made her hesitant to seek medical help due to concerns about potential high medical costs.
According to Pehrson, she experienced difficulty breathing while walking or climbing stairs. By the fall of 2020, even speaking became a challenge as she could hardly catch her breath.
“It would be hard for me to breathe even if I lay on my back,” she explained.
Sidecar Health, an American health insurance company, reports that the cost of a doctor’s appointment in Alabama can vary from $83 to $127. When Pehrson initially scheduled her appointment, she was within her budget. However, she was concerned that the doctor might recommend additional tests, which could result in a bill that she couldn’t afford. Along with her initial concerns, Pehrson also experienced symptoms such as stomach cramps, nausea, and loss of appetite.
In a stroke of luck, Pehrson managed to secure insurance through her job in the autumn of 2020. With her newfound coverage, she wasted no time and promptly scheduled an appointment with a doctor in December.
“I experienced symptoms for an entire year before I finally decided to seek medical help. However, I never anticipated that it would turn out to be something serious. I had assumed that I would receive a diagnosis for a condition that could be easily treated,” she shared.
The doctor didn’t take Perhson’s symptoms lightly; instead, they promptly ordered an x-ray and diagnosed her with pneumonia.
“I felt a sense of relief at that moment, thinking that the situation would improve and I would regain my normalcy,” she shared with Newsweek. “I was undergoing treatment and had hoped that it would resolve the problem, but unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse.”
Over the next two months, Perhson visited her doctor’s office multiple times as she continued to experience breathing difficulties. During this period, she received more abnormal X-ray results and underwent additional testing.
“They suspected that it could be heart failure, but a cardiologist dismissed that possibility,” she revealed to Newsweek.
Perhson experienced two hospitalizations in early 2021 due to the presence of fluid around her lungs. The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine explains that when there is an accumulation of excess fluid between the double layer of membranes surrounding the lungs and the inner chest walls, it can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath and pain. To address this issue, Perhson underwent a thoracentesis procedure a total of three times to remove the fluid.
During the examination, doctors made a significant finding. They diagnosed her with lung cancer after performing a pleural biopsy, a procedure that involves extracting a sample of the pleura, a protective membrane that forms a double-layered sac around the lungs. This type of cancer, known as lung and bronchus cancer, ranks as the third most prevalent cancer worldwide, with approximately 238,340 new cases expected in 2023, according to the National Cancer Institute.
In February 2021, Perhson received devastating news: she was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.
“I was sitting on the sofa next to my sister at the time; I remember crying until I had to go to bed,” she shared with Newsweek.
She wasted no time and began her chemotherapy treatment right away. So far, she has completed six rounds of chemotherapy. Currently, she is following a prescribed oral therapy that targets the main factor responsible for the growth of tumors in RET-positive advanced non-small cell lung cancer. She takes this medication on a daily basis.
According to her interview with Newsweek, she expressed, “Retevmo serves as my immunotherapy, and there hasn’t been a specific duration mentioned for my treatment. As long as it continues to effectively control the cancer and keep it at bay, I will continue using it.”
“Cancer has the ability to evolve and cause immunotherapy to lose its effectiveness, so the duration of its effectiveness varies. However, the intention is to continue treatment with immunotherapy for as long as it continues to be effective.”
“I am not in remission, but my cancer is currently dormant. It is not showing any signs of activity.”
According to her, the doctor informed her that the source of her pain was her reproductive system, causing the cramps. However, no further tests were conducted as chemotherapy proved to be effective in treating her condition.
Over two years have passed, and Perhson, who is now 30, has been utilizing her social media platform to create awareness about lung cancer. In September, she took to TikTok and shared a video where she revealed, “Doctors didn’t have much hope for my survival,” as they prepared her to bid farewell to her children, Liliana, 12, and Carter, 4.
In an interview with Newsweek, she shared, “I’ve never been a smoker, but the cancer didn’t originate in my lungs. By the time it was discovered, it had already spread extensively.”
Losing my mom unexpectedly the same year I was diagnosed has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced.
“I consciously choose not to dwell on the negative aspects of life and instead, I embrace each day with a mindset of optimism. Rather than constantly worrying about the potential outcomes, I prefer to live in the present moment and make the most of it.”
Currently, my life is quite ordinary. I dedicate my time to working as a sales and service coordinator on a full-time basis, while also fulfilling my responsibilities as a parent to my children.
Taking a year off work due to illness has had a profound impact on my perspective. It has instilled in me a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for the things I have in life. I’ve learned to live in the present moment and not to fret about the uncertainties of tomorrow.
Perhson encourages individuals to invest in health insurance and seek medical attention whenever they experience any discomfort.
“I value safety over regrets, prioritizing getting checked rather than neglecting it. I would have preferred spending a few dollars rather than discovering my cancer at such a late stage.”
“It is crucial for individuals to recognize the significance of getting themselves checked out, as many people often mention experiencing symptoms. Taking proactive measures for one’s health and seeking proper medical attention are vital aspects of self-care.”
Symptoms of Lung Cancer
Dr. Royce Calhoun, who has been actively involved in national lung cancer clinical trials, was contacted by Newsweek.
According to him, the patient showed no specific indications or symptoms of lung cancer. However, it is important to note that cough, congestion, and pneumonia symptoms can be linked to the disease. The key factor here is the duration of these symptoms. If they persist for more than a week or two, or fail to improve with antibiotic treatment, it is crucial to seek further medical evaluation. A visit to the doctor and a minimum requirement of a chest radiography (CXR) should be considered to investigate the situation thoroughly.
Some of the most prevalent signs of lung cancer include:
- Hemoptysis (coughing blood)
- Shortness of breath
- Wheezing, chest or shoulder pain
Dr. Calhoun, an experienced medical professional at St. Elizabeth Grant Hospital in Williamstown, Kentucky, has encountered numerous cases similar to Perhson’s.
According to an interview with Newsweek, he mentioned that people often mistake common symptoms such as cough and cold-like symptoms for typical seasonal viruses. The problem arises when individuals fail to recognize when these symptoms are not normal and require medical attention. Unfortunately, uninsured individuals and even those with high deductibles often try to wait it out and hope for the symptoms to resolve on their own. In this particular case, by the time the person sought medical attention, the diagnosis was already at stage IV and most likely incurable.
Can Non-Smokers Get Lung Cancer?
According to the CDC, smoking tobacco increases the risk of developing lung cancer. However, there are other factors that can also contribute to the development of this disease. These include exposure to secondhand smoke, radon, air pollution, a family history of lung cancer, and asbestos.
Every year in the United States, between 20,000 and 40,000 cases of lung cancer are diagnosed in individuals who either never smoked or smoked less than 100 cigarettes in their entire lifetime.
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