Susan Appleby knows it's no accident that she has survived four-and-a-half years after being diagnosed with Stage 3B Lung Cancer.
She knows she's blessed and she wanted to make sure she didn't waste that blessing.
So the Tewksbury resident has been using all of the resources available to her to educate people about lung cancer and the risk factors associated with it. As part of that campaign, Appleby successfully lobbied the Legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick to declare November "Lung Cancer Awareness Month" in Massachusetts.
"About three months ago I decided there must be a reason I'm still around. I wanted to get involved," said Appleby. "I'm one of the lucky ones."
Earlier this month, Appleby was presented with an official "Lung Cancer Awareness Month" proclamation by state Rep. Jim Miceli in a ceremony at the Tewksbury Senior Center. As she looked at the document, she admitted to being a bit overwhelmed.
"This is very emotional for me," she said. "I can't believe that I actually did something."
What Appleby has accomplished goes far beyond her awareness campaign. Since first being diagnosed, she has gone through multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatment but still the cancer metastasized twice.
The first truly good news in her treatment came when doctors determined she was eligible for targeted gene therapy. To date, the targeted therapy has been working, preventing Appleby's codition from worsening and providing her with precious time to spend with her husband, two sons and three grandchildren.
Appleby's next goal is to be able to see her granddaughter graduate high school.
In the meantime, Appleby says she will continue to be an advocate for lung cancer patients and continue to educate the public about a disease that is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the US. According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer has killed roughly 160,000 people in the US in 2012. That's more than pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer and colon cancer combined.
In addition to her own experience, Appleby has become educated about lung cancer through groups she has joined such as "Free to Breathe" and the "Lung Cancer Partnership."
"They gave me the tools to be able to educate my own community," said Appleby.
Appleby said there is a lot of false information flaoting around regarding lung cancer. The biggest fallacy, she said, is that lung cancer is strictly a smokers' disease.
"Between 10 and 15 percent of lung cancer patients have never smoked in their lives," she said.
A copy of the State Proclamation declaring November to be "Lung Cancer Awareness Month" can be seen at the Tewksbury Public Library as part of Appleby's Lung Cancer Education Display.