Lung Cancer Survivor Inspires Patients

Written By:Stacy Simon

Everyone who is treated for cancer at Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital in Houston, Texas most likely will meet Clara Cook Lambert. Lambert, an 8-year lung cancer survivor who was treated at the hospital herself, volunteers in the cancer radiation department. She greets patients, tells them what to expect, offers guidance, and talks and laughs with them.

“The healing process is a team game,” she says. “All the players – doctors, nurses, medical staff, patients, caregivers, and technicians – all of us working together and sharing information makes this a more positive life experience and not just a major disabling medical dilemma that claims so much of your life’s energy and physical strength.”

Hidden cancer

Lambert’s cancer journey began at age 62 when her new ear, nose, and throat doctor ordered a chest x-ray. Her previous doctor had treated Lambert for allergy symptoms for more than 30 years with steroids and antibiotics. But after learning Lambert had  smoked since college, the new doctor suspected the problem was in her lungs.

The x-ray detected a mass in Lambert’s right lung, setting off a series of tests over a period of several months. Results showed she had a necrotic mass, an area of dead tissue that had to be removed through surgery. There was just one problem. The surgeon refused to do the surgery until Lambert had quit smoking for 2 weeks.

“That night I decided I was going to do him one better,” said Lambert. “I decided I was going to give him 3 weeks.” And she did. The surgeon removed about a third of Lambert’s right lung, including the necrotic mass. During the surgery, he found lung cancer cells had been hidden within the mass. And though he removed as much of it as he could, he couldn’t get it all. He recommended she be treated with radiation and chemotherapy.

At first, Lambert was angry. “All those tests and the cancer was there the whole time and nobody could find it?” she thought. Then she was scared – she had lung cancer and she was afraid she might die. But then she decided she was going to do whatever it took to get through treatment and live her healthiest life.

The cancer journey

You cannot go through this cancer journey without it affecting your heart, your soul, and your vision of your own mortality.

Clara Cook Lambert

In all, Lambert had 35 sessions of radiation and 6 treatments of chemotherapy. She experienced some common side effects including blood pressure spikes, fatigue, nausea, and taste changes. She worked hard at staying positive, exercising, and using humor to get herself through the toughest challenges. She says it helped a lot that she has good friends who supported her. Her last day of treatment was July 1, 2009.

“You cannot go through this cancer journey without it affecting your heart, your soul, and your vision of your own mortality,” said Lambert. “It has a tendency to help you refocus your priorities and spend your time, efforts, and emotions with people you genuinely care about and things that are truly the most important to you.”

Today Lambert is an 8-year lung cancer survivor who stays busy and active. She works as a real estate agent and runs a fashion and image consulting company. She continues to stay away from tobacco, exercises at the gym, and of course, volunteers at Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital. But she accepts that her body is not the same as it was before cancer. She has less energy than she used to, and gets tired more easily. She rests more often. She says there is a new term in her vocabulary: “the new normal.”

Lambert is a big proponent of cancer screening and is encouraged by advances in early detection for lung cancer for people at high risk. She advises everyone to talk to their health care provider to find out what cancer screenings they should get. She says half the patients in the cancer center at Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital, including herself, found their cancer by accident. She says, “Early detection is key.”

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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