Linda's Story - To the Brink and Back


It was 2008. My usual, one-day yearly physical turned into three days. I remember thinking, “This is the best physical anyone could ever have. I hope my Mayo Clinic doctor of 15 years isn’t retiring!”. Shockingly, I found myself heading to surgery within 72 hours after being diagnosed with lung cancer. I was required to attend Nicotine rehab even though I never smoked and stayed active. My life insurance policy was cancelled without my consent and I was told, “You should be dead!" 

My lung cancer treatment was VATS robotic surgery, performed by a thoracic surgeon at Mayo Clinic. A 3cm tumor and my upper left lung lobe were removed. My follow-up care included CT scans. I didn’t mind having my height and weight checked before each scan. It helped me keep within the recommended height and weight standards, and I certainly didn’t mind giving blood for an ongoing Lung Cancer survivor research study.

Watch Linda's story, as shared at TEDx BigSky 2017   ----->

WARNING: lung surgery is not a cakewalk for the patient, loved ones or even the amazing team members who care for you — Lung cancer is tough on everyone! And if having to have my husband tell me to breathe, breathe, breathe just hours after surgery isn’t enough to test your resilience physically, mentally and spiritually…Hearing the words, “Today we will begin Nicotine rehab” seemed like this nightmare would never end. I did not understand as I slowly whispered, “But, I never smoked?”

My Mayo Clinic medical care was outstanding, but I felt compelled to push my cancer wounded body, mind, and spirit harder through recovery and hospital physical therapy so I could get out of this unsettling place “pursed lip” breathing. The only compassion and acceptance I felt were from my loved ones and the doctors and nurses who KNEW I never smoked!

Fact: In the 21st century, Lung Cancer will have claimed 1 BILLION lives.

This feeling of rejection seemingly seemed all too familiar to this courageous medical team as well. It felt like ‘forever’ before I heard my oncology doctor and team say, “We got it all, you are cancer free!” I thought 5 years 85% survival meant…live that long and you’re a survivor! I did not accept or realize there was only a 16% chance of surviving lung cancer.

My concern was how to manage my excruciating thoracic pain, streaming from deep nerve bundles that were once attached to my now missing upper left lung lobe. It was Impossible to take a deep breath. I had no idea how long I could live with such shallow breathing patterns. Previous cancer ridden choking cough seemed easier! How could I learn how to breathe again, walk, sleep, sit stand without pain? Bend over and tie my shoes, again? When I called my surgical team the only seemingly sad reply was, “I know it hurts, just give it time”.

Ring, ring, ring. A “Paced Breathing Research Study” invitation call came from a Mayo Clinic oncology nurse and earth angel. She would call with weekly questions and support. I was provided an app with a soothing voice that slowly guided my total body relaxation and breathing with such guidance, understanding, compassion, acceptance, love, and forgiveness that gave me mental, spiritual and physical permission to be released from lung cancer, this brutal disease, and its scars. (Check out the new MyBreath App)

Fact: 1 in 14 people will develop lung cancer in their lifetime.

In just three weeks I could speak clearly enough to say to the oncology nurse, “This is much more than paced breathing isn’t it?” Furthermore, I had someone who understood the depth of unfairness that comes with lung cancer and Never Smoker. We could talk openly, allowing the total healing to begin. I listened to the audio for two to four hours a sitting…morning, noon, evening, night, and middle of the night! I began to sleep sitting up in my bed. I could B R E A T H E, I was totally healing.

“Every breath is taken for granted until you’re gasping for air. ”

With my loving husband, tying my country ski shoes on my feet, slowly walking me to our truck, loading our x-country skis and poles and driving us to the ski trails where just three days before surgery, we had skied 17k uphill from 6300 feet to 8500 feet altitude in just a few hours. Now I would barely move 200 feet as I struggled to follow my husband while I listened to the soothing man’s voice guide my every breath. I had to stop and slowly slide my body back to the truck. This venture took two hours, but every day we would return to ‘try’ x-country skiing again. The only rest was returned doctor’s appointments. My husband believed our return flights from Montana to Minnesota were a holiday.

The “Paced Breathing Research Study” gave my mind permission to heal through the eyes of a Lung Cancer patient, while forgiving my body for allowing this to happen. This form of meditation is not for just anyone, it is directed to the spirit that has been so broken there is nowhere to go but “lives” and “transformation” from the brink of death by guiding my every breath to healing the total person.

In 2008, STRESS MANAGEMENT and RESILIENCY TRAINING (SMART) Program was being developed by Dr. Amit Sood at Mayo Clinic and my life was being transformed.

I breathe, walk, run, and live with the total transformation in my body, mind and soul with gratefulness every moment and every day to my new life.



Team W

Wortman Lung Cancer Foundation 501 (c) (3) Board Members