Being a Parent to Cancer


It’s interesting being a 13+ year lung cancer survivor. There are times during the day when I don’t think about having had cancer, but it’s the same as not thinking about how you’re a parent every second of the day. It is such an integral part of who you are that you never forget it; but this many years later, I find that I don’t dwell on it as much as when it was a new part of my life. Newly-diagnosed cancer patients think that will never happen. They think it will be a dark cloud in the forefront of their minds all the time, but that isn’t true.  

Donna Lee & her daughters

The more years that pass, the more the diagnosis just becomes a part of your existence, just like becoming a parent becomes part of your whole being. Our lives are shaped by the change. For me, this path led me to become an activist in the lung cancer community. I might not be quite as active as I was years ago, but I never forget my responsibility to help anyone, or any organization that reaches out to me. Just as your role as a parent changes over time, you are always there to lend support or help whenever it’s needed. 

I have seen so many wonderful things happen in the lung cancer world since my diagnosis and treatment in 2006. The new treatments and drugs that are discovered every day are life changing. I’m proud to see it all happen and I’m proud to be able to tell newly-diagnosed patients to give them hope, almost like a proud parent brags when seeing their children accomplish something wonderful.  

Yes, I still get very nervous on the day of my yearly scan. Yes, I still remember every single second of the day I was diagnosed and the immediate appointments afterward, as well as the treatment and side effects like it was yesterday. Yes, there are bumps along the way. But it doesn’t define my day-to-day existence anymore, it is just a part of my life now.

People say if you are smart, you never forget where you came from and what you went through to get where you are today. Because of cancer I am a very different person now from when I was first diagnosed. The ironic thing is I wouldn’t change a thing. I like who I am because of the things I’ve experienced and survived. If there is one message I can pass on to newly diagnosed patients currently going through treatment, it’s this – Have hope, and know that at some point you too will find the good in everything you will experience.


Donna-Lee is a long-time lung cancer survivor, mom to two amazing women, and an advocate in the lung cancer community.