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'Who needs two lungs?:' UArizona surgeon inspires others after lung cancer diagnosis

Dr. Riall.jpg
Posted at 6:15 PM, Aug 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-23 07:41:24-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — You would never know that Banner University Medical Center’s surgery director only has one lung as she crossed the finish line of a 5K race in the heart of Tucson early Sunday morning.

“Who needs two lungs?,” said Dr. Taylor Riall. "It's been two months and 10 days since the surgery.”

Doctor Riall was diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year.

“In December of 2020, during our biggest [COVID-19] surge, I started coughing.[It was] a really unfortunate time to start coughing because everybody thought you had COVID. It was just this dry kind of incessant cough,” she said.

Then January rolled around and she got a chest x-ray.

“I had a mass in my left lung. There's a million things that could be you know nobody thinks of cancer and somebody who is a nonsmoker and very, very healthy,” she said.

She underwent a series of tests for COVID-19 and even valley fever before she decided to see a surgeon for a third opinion.

That’s when the surgeon usually treating cancer patients became the patient.

“It can't be right, you know? Why me? It's not fair,” she said.

For the surgeon who never slowed down, the surgery was a setback.

“The surgery was Friday. I planned to be out of there by Sunday and I planned to go to our resident graduation, the following Saturday. I thought I was just gonna fly through. I didn't," she said.

While she dealt with a collapsed lung and a longer recovery time than she expected, she didn’t let it get her down.

She was back to scrubbing in and treating Tucsonans soon after.

“It’s changed my perspective as a physician, especially taking care of patients who are coming up with one thing that just changed my level of empathy-- just really being able to understand what they're going through," she explained.

Glowing while crossing the finish line in under twenty-five minutes, her resiliency continues to inspire the ones around her.

“I love running and I’m happy to know I can do it. Life’s too short not to do the things you love," she said.