Lung Cancer Survivor Finds Support Amid Challenges

"Every time a door slams in your face, or someone says something can't be done, ask again. Keep looking, and if you have to accept it, do it with grace."

April Langschied
photo of April Langschied giving the thumb's up

When lung cancer survivor April Langschied is faced with a challenge in life, she finds a way to handle it.

“Every time a door slams in your face, or someone says something can’t be done, ask again,” says Langschied. “Keep looking, and if you have to accept it, do it with grace.”

Langschied recently learned that her cancer has begun growing again after staying the same for about a year. She’s planning to participate in a clinical trial in her hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana for a new type of immunotherapy drug. Meanwhile, she’s trying not to think about her lung cancer all the time. “Sometimes denial is a good friend. You don’t always have to be upset about this.”

‘I just poured out my heart’

Langschied learned she had lung cancer in November 2012 at age 59 after she was rushed to the emergency room because her heart was beating out of control. She has a heart condition that can cause episodes of rapid heartbeat. After the doctor got Langschied’s heart back to normal, her daughter mentioned that Langschied also had a cough that wasn’t going away. The doctor ordered an x-ray, which showed something was wrong. Langschied then went through a couple of days of testing, including a CT scan, needle biopsy, PET scan, and MRI. She was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer that was in both lungs.

She immediately began researching online for help and information, and found WhatNext, a support network developed with the participation of the American Cancer Society that matches users with peers and resources.

“I just poured out my heart on this thing,” said Langschied. “I said, ‘I’m scared to death and I don’t know what to do.’ These people just ran to me.”

Some of the cancer survivors Langschied met on WhatNext showered her with supportive messages, while others gave her practical advice. An 11-year lung cancer survivor recommended she contact the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center, and after more research, that’s where she chose to have her treatment. She underwent chemotherapy, which shrank her tumor by 90%, and then a maintenance course of the targeted drug Avastin, which is thought to work by stopping the tumor from creating new blood vessels. She continued treatment until December 2013.

“I had a real nice, long period there,” she said. “Now I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

‘The worst thing that ever happened to me’

Langschied thought she’d faced her ultimate challenge back in 2007 when she had brain surgery to remove a non-cancerous tumor. The surgery lasted for 7 hours and Langschied spent the next 3 months recovering. “I thought it was the worst thing that ever happened to me,” she said.

To cope, Langschied says she relied on the lessons she learned in a 12-step program she’d attended when she was in her 20s. “The steps are spiritual and those people are so generous and you get to know every kind of person,” she said. “That became a good foundation for obstacles that came later. I’m lucky I had that experience.”

‘There’s a lot of anger’

Her chemotherapy treatments left Langschied with neuropathy in her legs, damage to the nerves that causes pain and numbness and makes it hard to walk. But she says the overriding effect from her cancer is emotional, not physical.

“There’s a lot of anger involved for me,” she said. “I feel lost because I had gotten to a point in my life after struggling as a single parent and raising my kids on my own. I finally got myself financially settled and bought a house, and then I got the diagnosis. I think the anger for me is bigger than I can even explain. I feel like I’m being robbed. I’m really close to my grandchildren, and I may not be able to be here to see them grow up. None of it makes sense; it’s not rational. It’s a feeling and it’s a very strong one. It’s the overriding feeling for me.”

She found help through Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana. A patient advocate there got Langschied a cane to help her walk, and a wig and hats to cover her head when her hair fell out. He also referred her to a counselor to help support her emotionally. And he gave her CDs to help her relax before chemotherapy sessions. They included guided imagery exercises that Langschied describes as a hypnotic voice that lifted her out of herself and helped her deal with anger and stress.

During this time, she kept a blog that she eventually turned into a book. In it, she describes the physical and emotional pain of her diagnosis and treatment for lung cancer, as well as the love and support she’s received from her family, her friends, and her black Labrador retriever, Betty.

“Betty has been a really good companion,” said Langschied. “When you’re in pain or aggravated, it’s nice to have another presence around. You know you have to get up in the morning and let her out. Having somebody who depends on you is helpful. Otherwise, you could just lie around all day and be depressed.”

To help herself get as healthy as possible, Langschied joined an exercise program for cancer survivors at her local YMCA. She also began to eat healthier, which she says made her feel better too. She quit smoking 20 years ago, which her doctor says is the best thing she could have done for herself.

‘I want to enjoy my life’

Since learning that her cancer has started growing again, Langschied says she’s been a little depressed. She’s stopped writing her blog and spending time on WhatNext.

“I’m trying to think of ways to deal with it,” she said. “I want to enjoy my life and not think about it all the time. Though it’s always in your life, you don’t want to have to read about it every day.”

She says when facing difficult times, she’s learned that you have to keep going and handle each thing as it comes up. Her favorite quote is by writer and philosopher Albert Camus: “In the midst of winter I found within myself an invincible summer.”

“It means,” said Langschied, “that no matter what happens, there is always something good to come out of it.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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