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When Kathy Ribbans-King went to visit her sister-in-law at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre she didn't expect to sign herself up for a clinical trial.
"My sister-in-law was being treated at Princess Margaret for lung cancer about nine years ago," Kathy recalls. "She had heard about a large lung screening study and encouraged my husband and I to get involved because we were both former smokers."
Kathy quit smoking 25 years ago and did her best to stay active – walking her dog, cycling, and hiking.
“I hadn’t smoked for so long that I never really thought of lung cancer, but I figured sure why not if they needed people it couldn’t hurt to take part,” she says.
Beginning in 2003, the study enrolled 1,000 Canadians aged 55 and older, who had smoked the equivalent of at least a pack a day for 10 years.
The study would end up changing the course of Kathy's life.
"It was like I got a kick to the stomach"
Two days after going in for routine sets of scans and tests as part of the study, Kathy received a phone call and was told she needed to come in immediately for further testing.
"It was like I had got a kick to the stomach," Kathy says. "I didn't know what to say; I didn't know what to think; I wasn't hearing anything – it was just 'Oh my God.' Everything just seemed to stop for a while."
She was referred to the Lung Rapid Assessment & Management Program (LungRAMP). The program reduces wait times for appointments and tests to shorten the time period from referral to diagnosis.
Within two weeks Kathy received a diagnosis – lung cancer.
"After I was given the diagnosis the thought of missing out on anything that was happening in the family at that time – it was devastating," Kathy says.
"Family was the main thing. The rest I could live without, but family I wanted to be there for them – and in turn they were there for me."
Kathy would undergo surgery at Toronto General Hospital with Dr. Tom Waddell. The surgery was a success and she did not require any further treatment.
As a way to give back, Kathy continues to volunteer for clinical trials.
"Whatever information they can get, whatever little bit of help I can give maybe will help someone else," she says. "If it hadn't been for that clinical trial I'm not sure where my treatment would be at this point."
While recovery was a slow road, Kathy says she's back to all of her general activities.
"Cancer has changed me in the fact that I'm more mindful of how wonderful every day is," Kathy says.
"And the other thing is maybe to know that you're stronger than you think you are. You can get through it."