In 2015, Tabitha Paccione had a cough that never went away. As an elementary school teacher, she assumed it was just a bug she picked up from her students. As the condition lasted, she went to her doctor and in 2016 she learned something shocking: She had stage 4 lung cancer. Paccione, then 35, wondered how this could be. out.
“I am young. I have never smoked. I am active. I have no history of cancer,” Paccione, from Cypress, California, told TODAY. With so much fear and pain I feel exhausted. I remember sitting in that doctor’s office after he said the word ‘lung cancer̵7; and I finished being empty. “
While feeling scared, worried and sad, Paccione decided to embrace life and enjoy family time.
“Time is short,” she said. “This lung cancer healing journey has helped us realize the importance of spending every moment together and making us have the best time.”
She hopes her story shows the importance of funding lung cancer research.
“No one deserves lung cancer – whether you smoke one day in your life or not,” she said. “I was told that I would only be here for three to six months. And this October I’ve celebrated being here for four years and I’m still living my life. ”
The cough never goes away
When the cough that started in 2015 did not go away, Paccione went to see her doctor who examined her and took a chest X-ray. The doctor believes that Paccione has bronchitis and gives her some cough medicines and antibiotics.
“It should have run in its direction,” she said. “I’m a busy mom of a 7-year-old and an 11-year-old … I really don’t have time.”
Even though she seems better at first, the cough comes back and it won’t go away. The doctor assumed that Paccione was allergic and gave her inhalers and steroids. However, the cough still did not improve. It actually got worse.
“Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night because of suffocation,” she said. “Once, I was driving with my kids and I couldn’t stop choking and coughing so much I wanted to vomit… It was pretty scary.”
Once again, Paccione went to the doctor and was diagnosed with acid reflux. But she noticed that her energy was also weakened. During the summer, she taught for half a day at a summer school and would come home and take a nap.
“I woke up eight o’clock from exhaustion than when I went to bed,” she said. “That’s not how you should feel.”
After that, she began to experience back pain and had difficulty exercising. The doctors believed she had muscle contractions. But she knew it was something serious.
“The most noticeable sign for me was I remember I was walking up four stairs at the cinema on a date with my husband and I had to take his arm and say, ‘I need a second. ’cause I couldn’t keep up. breath, ”she said. “I know something’s wrong with my body. I only ran a 10K like a month ago. How tired am I after walking up the four stairs? “
Paccione urged his doctors to find answers. Finally, she had to go to the neck surgeon for a nodule on the neck, possibly thyroid cancer. Her doctor had her do a CT scan to make sure she was ready for the resulting benign nodule removal surgery.
“That’s when he discovered a 5 cm mass in my left lung,” she said. “It is a curtain. I remember sitting in that doctor’s office thinking, ‘Oh my God, I don’t even know what to do next.’
Living with stage 4 cancer
Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women (excluding skin cancer), according to the American Cancer Society. The median age when diagnosed is 70, and about 80% of all lung cancer deaths are attributed to smoking. Common symptoms of lung cancer include:
- The cough does not go away
- Chest pain
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Short of breath
- Feeling weak or tired
The more Paccione learned about his lung cancer, the worse things got. She has ALK-positive lung cancer, a type of non-small cell cancer that has spread to the bones. Her hip was broken because cancer weakened it and her back hurt from cancer in the spine. Her brain was damaged and it also spread to her lymph nodes.
“I’ve got 29 wounds in my brain, but I don’t have a headache. So it’s really scary to know that cancer has progressed so far, ”she said. “But if it weren’t for the coughing spells I would never know.”
She was given a single dose of chemotherapy before the test revealed that oral chemotherapy would help her. She will always need treatment to stop the cancer from spreading further. It is working so well that she can go back to teaching.
“Those are my students, they are like my family. The kids are great around, ”said Paccione. “Going back to work with them, it was a huge part of my healing.”
Her family also started making epic road trips so they could create memories together.
“We take a little tour. We went hiking… We had a lot of fun, ”she said. “It really … enjoy whatever we can do together.”
Paccione and her husband, Anthony, are always open to their children, Dylan, 16, and Brooklyn, 12, about her prognosis. Brooklyn has been so strenuous and initially used to call her several times a day to make sure she was okay. But she’s resilient, and last year she hosted a cancer awareness week at her school. Having the support of his family makes it easier for Paccione.
“I’m actually living with lung cancer. Lung cancer is not a death sentence. There is a lot of hope, ”she said. “At some point, and I hope it’s far from this, my cancer will become drug resistant to my treatment. So in order to have more options for me here, more research is needed. ”