Lung Cancer Survivor Faces Life’s Challenges Head-on

photo of Ruth Cain holding a coffee cup sitting by the sea

In 1998, Ruthe Cain was living life in California and enjoying being close to the fresh air and the great outdoors. She was in her late 50s and loved staying active outside, but that year she would face a diagnosis that would change her life: she learned she had lung cancer. More than 15 years and 3 surgeries later, Cain is still a survivor, and she’s still enjoying life in every way she can.

Cain first suspected something might be wrong with her health when she had trouble with her vision. “All of a sudden, it looked like black veils over my eyes,” she says. She went in to see her doctor, and after a series of tests, she was surprised to hear that the problem might be not with her eyes, but her respiratory system. “I didn’t think a thing about my lungs. So they sent me in for a chest x-ray, and that was the beginning of it.” Cain was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer, and soon after, she underwent an operation to remove one of the 3 lobes in her right lung.

“After that first lobe was removed, I had no side effects at all. I was totally fine,” she says, and she continued to live an active life, snow skiing and water skiing and getting outside throughout the year. She also kept up with regular lung exams in order to check for a possible recurrence. It wasn’t until a decade later, in 2008, that a new problem was discovered.

On a trip from Maine to Pennsylvania to visit her son and daughter-in-law, Cain felt a pain in her chest. “We went to the hospital, and they did a chest x-ray, and sure enough they found another node,” she says. With this second diagnosis of lung cancer, surgeons removed another lobe of her lung, and they also noticed some suspicious findings that indicated changes might be happening in the remaining third lobe. A year later, when a growth was detected, they removed the last part of her right lung, leaving only her left lung intact.

“I was really lucky,” says Cain. “I never have had [to use] oxygen, I’ve never had any radiation, or chemo. But this last surgery, it was definitely a life changer.” With her whole right lung now gone, Cain had to cope with more serious side effects, such as an increased danger from chest infections and a noticeable amount of fatigue. It also meant some of the outdoor activities she had always enjoyed were simply no longer possible. However, she has found lots of ways to stay positive – and stay moving. “We got a dog a few years ago, so I am able to take her on the trail at the dog park,” says Cain. She also loves spending time in the pool with her 2 grandsons, and recently enrolled in a water aerobics class that she attends with her husband.

I'm so blessed and proud to be living this beautiful life, impaired as it is. I wake up and even if I'm going to do nothing that day, I'm just happy. I am a woman. I am strong. All I can say is, 'bring it on.'

Ruthe Cain
close up of Ruth and her husband's leg tatoos

In fact, Cain credits her husband – and her family and friends – with playing a big role in helping her cope with her cancer and treatment. “He has always taken such good care of me,” she says of her spouse. “I swear, I wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for him.” She and her husband celebrated her survivorship with a set of matching tattoos featuring lavender ribbons to acknowledge cancer awareness. Cain’s friends have also helped immensely along the way, especially recently, when she traveled solo for the first time since her last surgery for a ladies’ trip to Canada. “I was scared and nervous, but I made it and had a fabulous time with 3 of my best girlfriends,” she says. “Most importantly, I did it!”

She’s also found a useful resource in the American Cancer Society’s website, cancer.org, and wishes she could do more to give back to others facing the disease. “If I was younger or had more lung lobes, I would absolutely volunteer,” she says. “With only two lung lobes, my fatigue level is very high.”

Although Cain has to move slower than she used to, she’s grateful for her survivorship and for all that she can still do. “I'm so blessed and proud to be living this beautiful life, impaired as it is,” she says. “I wake up and even if I’m going to do nothing that day, I’m just happy.” As for facing the future, Cain has this to say: “I am a woman. I am strong. All I can say is, ‘bring it on.’”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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