MUNDAY, W.Va. - A battle against cancer showed Donna Steigleder the power of persistence.
In 1988 at the age of 25, Steigleder - a nonsmoker - found herself coughing up blood and on the hunt for the correct diagnosis. Her final diagnosis would be lung cancer.
Steigleder shares her story for Lung Cancer Awareness Month in November.
Donna Steigleder, left, with her husband, Shane.
Steigleder said when she was growing up her parents smoked but the carcinoid tumor is usually found in the stomach not the lungs. After a series of misdiagnoses, Steigleder said she was not prepared for the outcome.
"It was a shock," she said. "I had been married one year."
Steigleder was living at home and attending college when she began coughing up blood and dealing with bouts of shortness of breath.
"I went to the doctor and he said it was asthma, and I was treated for that for four years," she said.
While working in a pet store, Steigleder began to cough up blood more often, running a fever and becoming severely ill. Alarmed, she started on her journey of medical discovery.
Over five years, she said, the illness took its toll on her.
"My cousin, who was an X-ray technician, said I needed to get a second opinion so I got a second opinion," she said. "They gave me antibiotics for two weeks."
Steigleder of Calhoun County said the other doctor acted like he thought she was looking for a reason to not work.
"I was not trying to avoid work," she said. "I was working at the time and I never missed work except when I was so sick I couldn't go."
At first all of her doctors diagnosed her with pneumonia but she knew there was more. Steigleder was referred to a pulmonary specialist who discovered her lungs were only working at half capacity.
With this discovery Steigleder was finally correctly diagnosed with a malignant carcinoid tumor in her lungs, she said. She was told the only option was to remove two lobes of her lungs.
After the diagnosis things moved quickly.
"I had surgery at United Hospital Center in Clarksburg," she said. "What I had was so rare the oncologist at first admitted he knew nothing about it and had to research it.
"At the time only the Mayo Clinic was doing any work on it."
Steigleder said the only thing known was she had a tumor and after a sample was sent to Virginia she was told she had cancer. She also learned the cancer had spread to three lymph nodes.
In the quarter century that has passed, Steigleder said, followup examinations show there have been no problems associated with the cancer.
"The only difference is while most people have three lobes in their right lung I only have one," she said. "The surgery was three days before my birthday."
Steigleder had to choose between two doctors to do the surgery.
"I was told one would take out two ribs and the entire right lung and the other would take only affected areas and no ribs, so that was an easy choice."
At the time the only treatment for what she had was surgery, no chemotherapy or radiation.
Since her surgery and treatment, Steigleder has learned a lot more about cancer.
"The Internet taught me more about the cancer," she said. "Back then there was no way to access the information as easily. I found out a lot more, and it's probably better I didn't have the Internet back then; it would have been more scary."
After surgery she had followup visits every three months and then every six months and then once a year. She said at first it was frightening.
Steigleder said she finds it easier to talk about what she has faced with diabetes and cardiac problems. Since then, she said she has lost many friends and family to cancer, including her mother-in-law, mother, friends and parents of friends.
Steigleder started talking about her experience through a friend who worked with the Lung Association of West Virginia and he asked her if she was interested in telling her story.
Steigleder said her experience shows people need to be more proactive about their health care.
"I could have died," she said. "We all need to be proactive in health care; no doctor should mind you questioning them."
Today, Steigleder works for Northern West Virginia Rural Health Education Center, a nonprofit organization working to get doctors to come back to the area.
"We tell them patients are not textbooks," she said. "Each patient is different."
Creating awareness for lung cancer will help to save lives, Steigleder said.