Carol Jefferson's right lung x-ray looked the color of a February storm in Northern Minnesota—a blizzard of white making bone and lung invisible. Her lung was "whited out" because she was experiencing a dangerous combination of tumor and infection. Her lung cancer, a result of thirty years of Virginia Slims, had grown to block her left, main bronchus (the major tube bringing air to her left lung) and this blockage had caused a collection of white blood cells to gather on the other end of the narrowing.
Jefferson's doctor knew that she would eventually succumb to her cancer. But he was not ready to give up the fight, and Jefferson was more than happy to follow his recommendation for aggressive care. So the pulmonologist inserted a bronchoscope into her left lung, in hopes of better identifying the extent of her cancer and, just as importantly, of determining the nature of her infection. The radiation oncologists began irradiating her tumor, hoping to shrink it enough that the infection would be easier to treat. And the medical oncologists talked with her about the possible benefits of salvage chemotherapy.
Jefferson was easily convinced to undergo all these treatments. They were her only chance of surviving more than a few weeks, after all. She felt like she had nothing to lose. Besides, she had already maxed out her health insurance costs for the year, meaning that any additional care would essentially be free.