“I’m realizing a dream!”

Tori Tomalia has a new mantra: Stage IV is no time to be timid!

Health Monitor Staff
More Sharing +

“This idea has driven what I do today,” says Tori, who with her husband, Jason, recently signed a lease on a property they’ll turn into their first ever business venture. They think it’s about time Ann Arbor, MI, has a combination brewery-improv theater!

“Jason and I always talked about opening one,” says Tori, 38, a former theater professional who dropped out of grad school, abandoning her dreams of becoming a professor, after her diagnosis with metastatic lung cancer in July 2013. “I think in life you tend to check yourself.
I shouldn’t speak up. I shouldn’t take this chance. But in stage IV, your cards are on the table. Now’s the time to be brave!”

“I beat cancer today, I can beat it tomorrow!”
It started with a recurring cough in the spring of 2013. “My doctor prescribed asthma medication, but after several weeks with no improvement, they took a CT scan and found a big tumor on my left lung. By that time I could barely walk up a flight of stairs,” says Tori, who had to explain what was happening to her son, Zander, then 5. “The girls [twin daughters, Mikaela and Autumn] know my tummy gets upset and I take medicine for it. They don’t have the fear that Zander had, seeing me so ill.”

A month after her diagnosis with stage III adenocarcinoma, Tori learned that the lung cancer was also in her liver and bones (rib, pelvis and spine). As she started chemotherapy, “things seemed totally overwhelming. I spent the first month trying to process everything.” The mantra that helped her get through those days: “I beat cancer today, I can beat it tomorrow.”

“Thank you, science!”
Once the chemo started working, “I was able to walk around and
talk without getting short of breath.” On top of that improvement, she received thrilling news: Not only did she learn that a genetic mutation was behind her non-small cell lung cancer (she had never smoked), but that there is a medication that treats it! Tori stopped her infusions and started the targeted treatment, a pill. “Now, if you looked at me, you wouldn’t know I’m sick. I just have to sit down a bit more than other people.” Today Tori is NED (scans show no evidence of disease).

“I’m doing great now, but I know my cancer is something I’m going to be dealing with.” So that’s how the old dreams gave way to new dreams. “The theater should open in the summer,” says Tori. “It’s been motivating—and it’s nice having something to focus on other than cancer!”

As she enthuses on her blog, lil-lytnin.blogspot.com, This incredible leap of science is able to specifically target the mutation, and it has gotten me to NED. How freaking amazing is that?!?

Here, the strategies that help Tori thrive with Stage IV lung cancer:

  • Eat right for your treatment “It took two months to figure out how to eat while taking my pills. I get a lot of stomach problems
    and reflux. If I have a lot of starches and take the pill, it settles better. So I time it so that I eat, take the pill, then eat again. It also helps to snack frequently so my stomach is never empty.”
  • Get the rest you need “I used to be terrible—I’d work all night and drink coffee all day. Now I get eight hours of sleep—and Jason gets the kids ready in the morning. I still deal with fatigue—but this has helped!”
  • Connect with your cancer community! “I am one of the lucky ones. There are not many lung cancer
    survivors who are able to speak out. That’s why I advocate for lung cancer. I Tweet, I blog, I’m on Facebook and I’m in online patient groups—it was huge meeting other young moms
    with lung cancer!”
  • Love your body! “My breathing had been so compromised and my lungs so damaged, I had a fear of working my lungs again. It was hard to get my confidence back. So I signed up for a ‘LIVESTRONG at the YMCA’ exercise class for adult cancer survivors. The trainers advise us on how to get our strength and endurance back.”
  • Educate yourself! “This is one of my coping mechanisms. I figure if I know everything, I have a little more control over things. Once the shock of having stage IV lung cancer wore off, I began to dive into every journal article I could find. Asking ‘What can I do?’ motivates me.”
  • Have faith in your treatment “The early stages—when you first learn you have cancer—is total shock. But as your treatment starts working, it doesn’t seem quite as terrifying.”

Watch Tori's video below

April 2015