Sitting relaxed beneath her sister's family portrait, Ann delights in the fact that she is alive and able to tell her story more than two years after being diagnosed with lung cancer. When her eyes meet those of Rachel, her 6-year-old niece, as she skips through the hallway, Ann's face lights up, her eyes brighten, and she smiles. "We're really close, our family is spread out everywhere but really close," she says.
Ann moved from Tennessee to stay with her sister's family during her treatment at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute. She is honest about her condition and about how she feels, but she likes to inject a bit of humor and spirit into each day. With no major illnesses in her life, cancer was a shock. "I did not realize how deadly lung cancer usually is, until I had it."
For more than a year she had a cough and was treated for persistent allergies. After spitting up bright red blood one night she knew it must be something more. The lung cancer had already spread to various parts of her body: back, brain and hips.
She feels she has lived a wonderful life and smiles at her memories. "I try to stick with what is going on right now and not ask a lot of 'maybe' questions. I've had two birthdays since being diagnosed. I did not expect to be able to say that."
Ann is not participating in a clinical trial; she was not offered a trial because her specific type of lung cancer and stage did not qualify. She would have welcomed the opportunity to be on a trial and hopes that one day there may be one that is just right for her.
She spends many hours at the cancer center as a volunteer. She is a private person, not given to revealing details about her life, but she is passionate about educating people about the importance of the research being conducted at the cancer center. "The doctors are very straightforward with you. I have a tremendous respect and trust in them," she says. "It is very comforting knowing you have a team of people looking out for you, not just one person. They take you step by step, explaining every detail."
Fatigue is her nemesis,and it keeps her from living life the way she wants."It's the worst part," she says."I often don't have enough energy to care about anything."
But care she does.She gives of herself knowing she may be able to help future cancer patients. She is often revitalized by the compassion of the staff. "The hugs you get from the staff are not ordinary hugs." Ann smiles and beckons Rachel over for a hug. That's no ordinary hug, either.