Maddie (right) and her mom, Dawn (left).

By Maddie Horner

“Warrior,” “rock star,” “incredible,” “amazing,” “strong” and “inspiration” are all words people have used to describe my mom.  To me, she is those things and so much more. She has always been the rock in my family, as many mothers are. She is constantly full of advice and has been a shoulder to lean on for myself, my sister Nicole and my brother Austin. I braced for everything to fall apart in 2014 when my mom was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer. But, I should’ve known better. After all, my mom is the rock. She took the diagnosis in stride.

Nearly four years into her battle, my mother’s courage has not wavered. I watched her turn something truly devastating into an opportunity to make a positive impact on the lung cancer community. It is an uncomfortable topic to talk about. I find it brings up too many emotions. Yet, my mom embraces her valuable position as a non-smoker to educate others and help end the stigma that many outsiders associate with this disease.

Dawn wearing her “Dawn Strong” team shirt at Lung Love Run/Walk Portland.

She shares her perspective with local news outlets. Her story has been featured on KGW News in Portland and published by The Columbian.  Somehow, she finds the energy to rally all of her friends and neighbors for Lung Love Run/Walk Portland each summer. Regularly, she reaches out to strangers who may be struggling to come to terms with their own diagnoses. I am comforted knowing she finds strength from other survivors through relationships nurtured during her hospital visits and trips to the National Advocacy Summit.

If there is one thing my mom drilled into me, it’s to be your own advocate. She was misdiagnosed twice while cancer grew in her body for 15 months. Doctors reminded her she was “not a smoker.” They insisted she was healthy, but she could not shake her gut feeling that something was not right. Recently, her cancer quit responding to chemotherapy. So, she packed her bags and began traveling across the country for a medical trial at MD Anderson in Houston. I watch her continue to advocate for her own health by questioning her doctors about treatment options and urging them to look closer when something feels off.

Dawn (far right) and other lung cancer advocates at the 2017 National Advocacy Summit in Washington, DC.

The greater lesson, which she teaches by example, is the power of a positive attitude. Some side effects from my mom’s medication are gruesome and painful, but she takes it day-by-day and is always grateful for the chance to keep fighting. Living hours apart, most of our conversations are via phone and I often forget what she is up against. She tells me about her run, the dogs and new recipes—most of the same things we talked about four years ago. She is still a rock and while things have certainly changed, she continues to be my shoulder to lean on. I am thankful for her courage and inspired by her attitude every day.

If I could teach my mother one thing, it would be that there is strength in weakness. You can lean on our shoulders too. Happy Mother’s Day! I love you!!

Join Maddie and her mom, Dawn, at Lung Love Run/Walk Portland on June 23 at Laurelhurst Park in Portland, OR.

You can also join Dawn in Washington DC this summer at the National Advocacy Summit from July 10-12. Learn more!