Fighting For Breath: My Journey With Stage 3 Lung Cancer


The day my doctor told me I had stage 3 lung cancer, I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. After months of worsening symptoms like a chronic cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath, the diagnosis confirmed my fears but also filled me with dread. As a lifelong smoker, I knew lung cancer was a possibility, but I never thought it would happen to me at only 57 years old. Hearing the words “stage 3” only added to my panic – wasn’t that one step away from terminal stage 4?

My mind raced with questions in the following days and weeks. How serious was my diagnosis? What treatment options did I have? Could stage 3 lung cancer even be survived? I desperately searched online for more information and any shred of hope to cling to. What I found were scary statistics around 5-year survival rates contrasted by inspiring stories of people determined to beat the odds. Ultimately, I knew the only path forward was to educate myself on my disease, create a comprehensive treatment plan with my medical team, and fight with every ounce of strength to save my own life.

Learning About Stage 3 Lung Cancer

To develop an action plan, I first needed to understand what defined stage 3 lung cancer and why it’s considered advanced. In non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which makes up 80-85% of cases, staging is based on factors like:

● Size and location of tumors ● Lymph node involvement
● Whether cancer has spread within the chest or to distant sites

Stage 3 NSCLC means a large tumor or multiple smaller tumors are present in one lung plus lymph node involvement, but no distant metastasis. Or, it may reflect a tumor of any size affecting crucial structures near the lung like the heart, trachea, esophagus, etc. Overall 5-year survival rates for stage 3 hover around 15-30%, higher for subset groups able to undergo surgery as part of treatment.

Hearing such low survival odds terrified me. But I also uncovered research showing rates improving thanks to advances in newer targeted therapies and immunotherapies. My doctor confirmed I was eligible for the typically aggressive trifecta approach to treat locally advanced lung cancer: chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. This intensive treatment path came with difficult side effects, but offered me the best hope to beat the stats.

Getting Through Treatment – And Its Challenges

Over the next six months, I endured two cycles of chemotherapy, five weeks of daily radiation therapy, and finally, surgery to remove the remainder of my right lung.

The chemo drugs I received mainly included cisplatin plus another agent like etoposide or docetaxel. These highly potent medications attacked fast-growing cancer cells but also destroyed healthy cells, leading to significant side effects. Extreme nausea, vomiting, fatigue, infections, blood disorders, nerve issues – you name it, and chemo brought it on. Some days getting out of bed at all felt like an accomplishment.

Meanwhile, radiation therapy took a more precise aim at eradicating traces of lung tumors with focused X-ray beams. I still battled painful skin irritation, difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, and profound tiredness. At my lowest points, I wondered if these healing attempts might do me in before the cancer could.

Finally, surgery removed over half my lung tissue along with any leftover malignant spots. Losing lung capacity and function so drastically meant an extensive recovery process of its own. Simple acts like walking became Everest-level feats requiring slow progress and periods of rest. Between learning to breathe with only a partial lung and regaining strength and energy, I looked at a long rehabilitation road ahead.

Hope & Healing After Treatment

Eighteen months since my initial diagnosis, I can finally say I’m on the other side! CT scans and bloodwork show me cancer-free following completion of the clinical trifecta last fall. My most recent tests reflected excellent healing and lung capacity despite so much tissue removal. Energy levels take more time to rebound, but daily mile walks no longer exhaust me completely thanks to my home oxygen machine. That plus a balanced diet help keep me strong enough to enjoy favorite hobbies again too.

The statistics I researched endlessly when first diagnosed indicated my odds of 5-year survival were no better than one in three. Yet here I am, already 20 months in and determined to be one who proves the numbers wrong for stage 3 lung cancer. I don’t claim the excruciating treatment I endured was easy or that I sailed through smoothly. Plenty of days when death seemed preferable to the misery still haunt my memories. What carried me through was the phenomenal support system lifting my spirits, world-class medical care attacking cancer from all sides, and a stubborn refusal to let a disease determine my fate.


A stage 3 lung cancer diagnosis turns your world upside down overnight. Over the many months of intense therapy, complications, and recovery challenges, holding onto hope feels impossible at times. What got me through the darkest moments was remembering survival depends not on statistics or stages, but on how determined I stayed to be a survivor. For anyone battling advanced lung cancer, gather a support squad who won’t let you give up, seek opinions from cancer centres specializing in latest treatments, and fight relentlessly each day. Take comfort in the growing success stories. With grit and patience, remission can happen. My journey proves you can stare down stage 3 lung cancer – and come out the other side.

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