Georgia lung cancer survivor finds mission in helping newly-diagnosed patients

Katherine DeJoseph couldn't believe she was in a cancer clinic. Being told, at 61, she had not just lung cancer, but stage 4 lung cancer.

"It was the most horrifying period of my life, ever," DeJoseph says. "I'd been a career woman and I don't think I'd ever had the flu. And your world turns completely upside down immediately, the minute someone says, 'You have lung cancer.'"

Still, DeJoseph feels lucky she found Wellstar Health System's STAT Clinic for lung and esophageal cancer patients. Here, the specialists work together to give patients a faster diagnosis and take a team approach on how best to treat them.

"I met a survivor halfway through treatment," DeJoseph says. "And she changed everything about how i saw it. And I made up my mind as soon as I was able, that I was going to make sure people meet a survivor at the beginning."

So, now, on the day patients get the worst news of their lives, Katherine DeJoseph is here with them..

"They're shell-shocked," she says.

Carol Layne sure was. It was February. The 57-year old high school math teacher and married mother of two had just been told her cough was cancer.

"I was pretty quiet. I had a lot of thoughts going through my head," says Layne.

Layne had gone to the doctor for a chest x-ray after she developed a cough she couldn't shake.

"Never smoked in my life," says. "Just found out one day I had stage 3 lung cancer in my chest, and I had no idea. And the minute you hear cancer, you just feel dread. It's like, 'Okay. Am I even going to survive this?'"

But the day Layne was diagnosed, Katherine introduced herself.

"And then she said, 'I was once where you were. I had cancer. It was a lung cancer.'" Layne says. "And when she told me where her tumor was, it was the same place mine was."

Within a week of her diagnosis, Carol had started radiation. Then, chemotherapy. Katherine gave her an idea of what to expect, and showed up on her first day of chemo.

"And she didn't say it was going to be easy," Layne says. "She knew it was a struggle. The chemo wasn't easy, and for me, the radiation, it's a little bit hard."

But Katherine DeJoseph is a reminder people can -- and do -- beat lung cancer.

"She lived through it and I said, 'Maybe just maybe, I can get through this," says Layne.

And, in a strange way, Katherine says lung cancer helped her find her calling.

Before her diagnosis, she says, her job was everything to her.

"We don't think about what the meaning is in our lives," she says. "We're caught up in the power, the making the money, what total strangers think."

These days DeJoseph doesn't earn a penny volunteering at the STAT clinic. But, she's so much the richer for it.

"I'm not grateful I got cancer, by any stretch," she says. "But I'm thankful for the change, because this is not what I'd be doing. And, I'm happy to be doing this."