Lung cancer survivor reflects on "a whole new life"

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by Miriam Smith

Reba Kennedy had her first and second lung cancer surgically removed by doctors in her hometown of Knoxville, Tenn., in 1997 and 1999, respectively. They also removed her breast cancer in 2002.

But two years later, Reba felt an excruciating pain worse than ever before. Her lung cancer had returned in a large mass wrapped around her ribs. Local doctors said this tumor -- which was at stage 4 -- was inoperable. They recommended she seek a second opinion at MD Anderson.

"I knew I needed something major," Reba recalls. "I was facing death." She got to MD Anderson as quickly as she could.

Undergoing lung cancer treatment at MD Anderson
Reba remembers her first visit to MD Anderson as being surprisingly warm.

"From the time I came through the door, everybody was fighting for me," she says. "They were going to do everything possible to make me well. And I knew no matter what, I was going to the best place in the world."

Anne Tsao, M.D., associate professor of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology, and David Rice, M.D., professor of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, determined that the tumor could be removed if they replaced part of Kennedy's rib cage with an artificial one.

"I tell people, 'Don't give up! Don't give in! You need to go to the best doctors in the world, see what they've got to say, then give it everything you've got,'" Reba says.

"Getting to have the surgery and fight for my life felt like the biggest present in the world."

"Every day is the best day ever"
Reba has gotten a lot more great presents in the eight years since her surgery. She's gotten to see both of her sons get married and have two children of their own

She's also gotten to enjoy a healthy, active lifestyle, which most recently sent her zip-lining in Costa Rica. She also water skis, plays golf and tubes down snowy mountains with her grandchildren.

"I've gotten so much out of life in these past eight years. Every day is the best day ever," she says. "Looking back at how sick I was and how hopeless I felt, it's as if I've been granted a whole new life."

Lung cancer is one of the cancers MD Anderson is focusing on as part of our Moon Shots Program to dramatically reduce cancer deaths. Learn more about our Lung Cancer Moon Shot.

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