“I strongly tell people if you have lungs, you can get lung cancer:” lung cancer survivor says

It's typically a cancer associated with smokers, but lung cancer can also be found in people who've never smoked before.
Published: Feb. 7, 2023 at 8:39 PM PST
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BEAVERTON Ore. (KPTV) - It’s typically cancer-associated with smokers, but lung cancer can also be found in people who’ve never smoked before.

Yoshiko Ashton is one of those cases. She lives an active lifestyle, running marathons, climbing glaciers, or just going on walks around her neighborhood. And she doesn’t smoke. So the risk of being diagnosed with lung cancer was never on her radar. But in the spring of 2022, she was diagnosed.

“When I heard I had a large tumor in my right lung, I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t take it, I didn’t think that was me,” Ashton said.

It initially started off as a bad cough that wouldn’t go away. Ashton spent weeks consulting with doctors about how to get rid of it. But the medication they were prescribed was not working.

“My primary care doctor checked my lungs, but she couldn’t find anything,” Ashton said. “So she ordered an X-ray and then I found out I had a large tumor in my right lung.”

Ashton said she was determined to get better. She was given options from doctors at Providence Cancer Institute on what to do next. That’s when she met Dr. Navi Dharampal, a thoracic surgeon.

“When I first saw her scan, I was a bit an alarmist in saying that this was not something I can necessarily take out,” Dr. Dharampal said. “I don’t think this is a surgical disease”

Dr. Dharampal worked with other providers at Providence Cancer Institute to get Ashton into a chemotherapy treatment that reduced the size of the tumor so she could operate. In August of 2022, Yoshiko’s right lung was removed and with that, the cancer.

“I think the key was enlisting other caregivers who could come up with a multi-disciplinary plan,” Dr. Dharampal said. “If she hadn’t gotten chemo, we wouldn’t have gotten it small enough to get it out.”

Ashton is currently in remission and will take a drug for the next three years that Dr. Dharampal said will reduce the chance of cancer returning.

“She’s back going her normal things,” Dr. Dharampal said. “Running, being outside, she has a wonderful family I think she’s had an opportunity to spend more time with but she’s done excellently.”

Ashton said the whole experience changed her and her family’s life. She learned to always listen to her body when something doesn’t feel right and get multiple opinions about her health. She also hopes other people do the same.

“I strongly tell people if you have lungs, you can get lung cancer which I never thought about me getting lung cancer,” Ashton said.