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Todd Smith

Todd Smith - Registered oncology nurse and non-smoking lung cancer awareness advocate

Todd's story

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My name is Todd Smith. I've been a nurse for almost nine years now. I've worked everywhere from the ER to the ICU. Right now I work for Utah Cancer Specialists in their Start program, which is dealing with phase one clinical research with oncology.

My wife was a nurse as well. She was a NICU nurse, so she worked in the neonatal ICU taking care of premature babies. And she loved her job. She was so good at it. Her biggest goal with nursing, with her career, was to be a life flight nurse. So to transport these premature, really sick babies from hospital to hospital, just have the most delicate and complex patients that she could.

She got a job at Primary Children's Hospital in their NICU, and then after about a year and a half, she applied to life flight. She didn't get in on her first application, but then a few months later, she applied again, and then she got in. She got her dream job, and she was always so excited about it. She'd send me pictures. She'd send me pictures and videos of her on the airplanes, on the helicopters as well. She was so excited about what she was doing.

Soon after she got that job, she came down with a cough. We just assumed it was a cold or Covid or something like that, that this cough just persisted and it just stayed there. She started having other symptoms, too. She was coughing up a little bit of blood. Her heart rate was slowly increasing over time. So over several weeks, her resting heart rate was higher. We went to the emergency room. They did a CT scan on her, and they said it was pneumonia. Saw a pulmonologist, and he looked at her CT scan, and he said, this looks like it's something different. He knew exactly what it was right when he saw it, but he didn't tell us. He wanted to be 100% sure.

He scheduled to have pleural effusion drained, so she had a bunch of fluid around her lung that had built up, and they drained that. They tested it, and they found out that she had cancer. At that point, we didn't see that coming. That was the last thing I was expecting. My wife was only 32, and she's so healthy and so active. We would go to the gym together. We'd work out together. She's way tougher than me. She was so tough, so driven, so fit. So this really caught us by surprise.

We went through four different lines of treatment. She had a targeted therapy that didn't work. She went to chemotherapy that didn't work. She went to immunotherapy and also radiation therapy, and none of that worked. I had to say goodbye to her at the beginning of November. That was really hard.

If there's any way that I can find out what caused her lung cancer, it's worth checking. If nothing else, then for my own peace of mind, but mostly so I can avoid something like that happening to my kids or myself. You don't have to be a smoker to develop lung cancer. Obviously, that's the case with my wife. She never smoked in her life. She was incredibly healthy.

Something like radon gas is something that you can avoid, that we can actually test for it. And if I could go back, if I could have prevented it, if there was anything I could have done, it would be worth it. No matter what. It would have been worth it to try and avoid that. If it can happen to my wife, it can happen to anybody. And I'll tell you, as a nurse in oncology, the vast majority of my patients, 99% of my patients, say that they were caught completely off guard by their cancer diagnosis. So I think it's worthwhile to do whatever you can to avoid these risk factors, whatever it is. And with radon gas, that's a pretty easy one to try and figure out.

-- Todd Smith - Oncology nurse

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