Plum survivor touts lung cancer awareness walk
April Roesner needed a chest X-ray before she could have a medical procedure done.
As an anesthesiologist was about to put Roesner under for a procedure that occurred in 1995, he mentioned that there was something “funny” on her chest X-ray that she might want to have looked at, Roesner said.
“I started to panic,” said Roesner, 53, of Plum. “When I woke up, my mind went back to it.”
A CAT scan revealed a quarter-size tumor at the bottom of Roesner's right lung. The diagnosis was lung cancer.
“I was totally shocked,” said Roesner, a registered nurse who teaches an online nursing course.
“I didn't have an unhealthy lifestyle. My choices in life were fairly healthy. I didn't smoke. I had no idea where it came from.”
Roesner had surgery to remove the tumor, as well as the bottom of her right lung.
Doctors said the cancer had not spread. They also said they didn't know if chemotherapy or radiation would help her.
“They said go home, and good luck,” Roesner said.
Nearly 20 years later, Roesner has remained cancer free.
Roesner said she doesn't want cancer patients to face the uncertainty she was up against after her surgery and — with her family — again will participate in the second annual Pittsburgh Free to Breath Walk on Saturday at North Park.
The purpose of the event's 5K and 1-mile walks is to raise awareness of lung cancer and funding to fight it.
Roesner said that after her surgery, she took a no-nonsense attitude and got on with her life.
“I had two boys, 5 and 8,” Roesner said. “I didn't have time for this cancer stuff. I didn't care about my jobs. I just wanted to be a good mom. I thought, ‘Maybe I am going to die.' I just cared about my two kids.”
Roesner said her life changed in 2013. Her eldest son, Bill, got married. Her youngest son, Zachary, moved out of the house.
“I heard about the walk for lung cancer,” she said. “I thought, ‘I am ready. I have made it.' ”
The grim facts about lung cancer also fueled Roesner's desire to get involved.
She was disheartened to learn the five-year survival rate is 16 percent and has remained unchanged for more than 40 years.
Also, more Americans die from lung cancer each year than the annual number of deaths by breast, colon and prostate cancers combined.
On the flip side, Roesner said, she is pleased that strides have been made in research.
“They test tumors for molecular changes and personalize the treatment,” she said.
Roesner said she is looking forward to doing the walk with family members and a couple of friends on the April's Angels team.
She helped Teresa O'Rourke, an organizer of the event, with fundraising ideas and also distributed bookmarks containing the signs and symptoms of lung cancer to the Plum Borough Community Library and Plum Community Center.
Roesner said she is happy to do what she can to help with both awareness and fundraising.
“My chest X-ray came at the right time,” Roesner said.
“I am very fortunate.”
Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400 ext. 8753 or firstname.lastname@example.org.