While vacationing at her son’s Florida home in February 2014, Vita O’Kane found it impossible to enjoy her midwinter getaway because of her nonstop cough. For the New Jersey retiree and her husband, Tom, the visit was meant as an escape after a string of daunting health crises. In 2012, she underwent grueling chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation treatments for stage 2 breast cancer. A year later, she endured 32 rounds of radiation to tackle basal cell skin cancer on the tip of her nose. And even before her pair of cancer diagnoses, O’Kane had confronted an ovarian cancer scare.
As unflinching as O’Kane had become, though, she never imagined the diagnosis that lay ahead. It also never occurred to her that her doctors could be wrong.
O’Kane had X-rays at a Fort Lauderdale hospital. They showed a large mass in her right lung; days later oncologists in Philadelphia agreed that O’Kane, a nonsmoker, now faced lung cancer that had spread to her brain — a diagnosis with a dismal prognosis.
“Every time I went over one hurdle, there was another one waiting,” says O’Kane, now 75. “I just got so used to it that nothing fazed me anymore. But I assumed the doctors were correct.”
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