As the leaves flutter to the ground in Dayton, OH, Sara Whitlock shakes her head with wonder. "I was diagnosed in October 2010," she says. "I was so afraid of the final leaves falling off the tree. It seemed a metaphor. And now I see the leaves turning color again. I was thinking, This is my third fall. What a blessing."
If you were to go with the odds—based on the statistics of surviving a Stage IV lung cancer diagnosis—Sara wouldn't be enjoying the autumnal changes. But the past four scans have proved clean—no evidence of metastatic cancer. So the "never smoked" 49-year-old mother of two daughters, Katie, 14, and Elena, 11, has set about trying to figure out her "new normal."
Sara volunteers at her church, chairs a committee at Elena's school and works 15 hours a week at the medical practice where she once saw patients as a nurse practitioner. With her husband, JD, in the military—she's got a full plate.
Knowing she's doing everything she can—from monthly chemo infusions to acupuncture—and the support she gets right at home helps: "I've been surrounded by love—from my husband, my children, extended family and friends. I still get mad at my kids, fight with my husband, gossip when I shouldn't—I'm not perfect. But having a dose of your own mortality helps you get your priorities in order. I understand what's important in my life. It leads me to focus on today and it has deepened my faith. I know that God has a plan for me. I can relax into that. However my life plays out, it's okay."