EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Two years ago, Joyce Pacheco thought she was allergic to her new rescue dog, Sutter.
At her annual physical she expected her doctor to refer her to an allergist to address her trouble breathing.
“She listened to my lungs and sent me for a chest x-ray, and then, um, that’s when things started to unfold in a bad way,” Pacheco said.
A CT scan revealed a much uglier truth: A collapsed lung and stage four lung cancer.
“I couldn’t even believe it was happening because I felt okay! I never smoked, never smoked, I could barely light a match. I thought, at the beginning, that I was going to die,” Pacheco said.
While Pacheco’s story is startling, it isn’t all that uncommon.
“It’s all too often that we hear of this type of thing,” Jennifer Wall of the American Lung Association said.
She and Pacheco are traveling to our nation’s capital this week for the Fourth Annual Lung Force Advocacy Day.
They’ll meet with Rhode Island’s congressional delegation and lobby for more funding for lung cancer research.
“Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of both men and women in the united states, so it’s definitely one of those diseases and diagnoses that needs more awareness,” Wall said.
Pacheco also wants to make lung cancer screening more accessible for everyone, not just smokers who are at a higher risk.
“People get mammograms, they get colonoscopies, they go to the dermatologist. Nobody talks about lung cancer until it’s on the late side,” Pacheco said.
“Early detection definitely can mean the difference between life and death,” Wall said.
Pacheco’s story turned from horror, to hope thanks to a new treatment.
She’ll be joined in Washington, D.C. by 150 other lung force advocates from all 50 states.