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Debbie Anderson: Lung Cancer HERO

03 March, 2023

Nevada Cancer Coalition Board Member Debbie Anderson is in Washington D.C. serving as a lung cancer HERO. We're sharing this story that she shared with us:

 In 2021, Debbie was in her mid-50s, is a Director of Case Manager and Behavioral Health, and is active in the rural community of Elko NV where she and her husband relocated from North Dakota. This meant leaving their home of 19 years, her five children, and now seven grandchildren to advance her career in healthcare. Now it is her co-workers and community who have become her support system. 

Debbie won the 2022 Mercy Award for her hospital system.

During the COVID surge, the hospital where Debbie worked had received their low-dose CT scan, which was delayed for several months. Because no visitors were allowed in the hospital, the hospital was limited in training opportunities for the CT scan. Debbie, being the go-getter she is, volunteered to be the person to receive this scan and allowed the radiologists to practice on her. It was her birthday, after all, and all employees were working overtime due to the entire house of COVID patients. Debbie thought this would be her chance to put her feet up and nap. October 15, 2021, was the year Debbie would have loved to return her diagnosis of Adenocarcinoma – a non-small cell lung cancer common in women and the most common type of lung cancer seen in people who do not smoke. 

Debbie felt overwhelmed by her diagnosis, which had only been an accidental discovery. Now she was facing a challenging situation. After receiving medical consultations, she decided to forgo surgery and undergo immunotherapy and chemotherapy. Furthermore, although she was strongly advised to take time off from work, there was an overwhelming personal call to be at work during the pandemic, taking the lives of multiple people daily in her small-town hospital. 

Like many of those undergoing treatment, Debbie struggled with side effects like fatigue, nausea, and hair loss. She was surrounded by an army of people to support her, mainly made up of her co-workers, who are doctors and nurses. She was even able to remain at her workplace for her infusion session. While Debbie had much support, she did not connect with other cancer patients and survivors who could have related to her situation. "I hesitated to meet other patients because I felt I was not sick. I was afraid of how I would feel meeting other patients." Debbie relied on her faith and co-workers during treatment to keep her going. However, afraid everyone around her was for her health, Debbie kept stating, "the people in the hospital beds are the sick ones. I just have cancer". Debbie embraces her cancer journey and advocates for those with cancer in rural areas. 

Cutting the NIH budget would seriously jeopardize the development of new, potentially life-saving cancer diagnostic tools, prevention methods, and treatments. In addition, cutting the CDC chronic disease budget threatens to substantially weaken vital tobacco prevention and cessation programs and necessary efforts to address nutrition, physical activity, and obesity, all significant cancer risk factors. 

lung cancer screening in a low dose CT machine
Screening and diagnostic tools including low-dose CT for lung cancer screening are vital to reducing the impacts of cancer.

The results of these cuts, combined with the reduction in Medicaid funding, could leave millions of Americans without access to meaningful health care and prevention services. To date, the federal government has played a critical role in our ability to reduce the cancer burden. Such drastic budget reductions would potentially devastate medical research, hamper progress in detecting cancer when it is least expensive to treat and most survivable, and restrict low-income patients' access to healthcare coverage. 

On behalf of all those affected by cancer, Debbie urges lawmakers to preserve their bipartisan commitment to research and prevention and reject these cuts when crafting the FY 2023 budget. 

Debbie knows, as a survivor, that cancer is an experience that never truly leaves you. She feels people around her expect her to push past the experience and be done with it. Debbie speaks with other cancer survivors through in-person and online social communities. She is the founder and board member of a local cancer coalition and a board member of her state cancer coalition, speaking at conferences and community events to talk about her experiences. Debbie seeks to improve health disparities and inequities in underserved and vulnerable populations, especially in rural communities and the mining communities, to educate the people of her state on the dangers of Radon in workplaces and homes alike. She hopes to inspire others and improve patient access to affordable testing. 

Debbie wants others to know there is hope and that they are not alone. There are other patients just like her. Furthermore, testing is available for every type of cancer thanks to ongoing research. Debbie takes comfort in knowing that there are people who have dedicated their lives to finding a cure for cancer. 

Read Debbie's breast cancer survivor story here.

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