Monthly Archives: January 2014

Surviving Lung Cancer

I recently had the rather odd opportunity to participate in a market research study that was directed at stage III and IV lung cancer patients. In all, the company was trying to find 9 of us to help them develop a marketing campaign for a new immunotherapy drug that will be coming out. There were three time slots and three people were needed for each time slot. We were paid $200 to participate. If our names were provided to the market research company, the referee received $100. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to locate stage III or IV lung cancer patients; especially patients who are willing and able to participate in the study.

I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to do it either. Sometimes I don’t mind talking and answering questions and sometimes I do. I woke up not sure I wanted to talk about lung cancer or my thoughts about it.

But, since I had agreed to participate, I got ready and made the trip into Dallas. Finally talked myself into trying out LBJ Freeway which has been under construction for the last several years. Wow! It is nice! 🙂

I was very curious to see who the other two participants would be. Would they be sickly? How long had they been sick? I felt certain that I would look far healthier and feel far better than my colleagues. In fact, I was a little smug in my belief that I am doing so much better than most would be a year after being diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer.

I arrived first. Next, a nice looking lady about my age came in. She sat next to me and we had a wonderful time. She didn’t look unhealthy either. And despite her saying that she is depressed and worries constantly about her diagnosis, she had a fabulous sense of humor. I believe she had been diagnosed about 7 months previously. Her cancer was different than mine and she was able to have a lung removed. Nevertheless, she is currently undergoing chemo that is making her really sick. Ugh. I know the feeling. I referred her to UTSW. Maybe they can get her into a study with a drug like mine that doesn’t make you sick. I hope so.

The last person to arrive was  Lydia. She looked a little worse – she wore a hat, perhaps because she has no hair and perhaps because she prefers a hat. I’m not certain. Looking at her, I assumed she had had the cancer the least amount of time and that she was suffering the most. Wrong. As it turns out, she has been battling the disease for five years. Tumors have popped up all over her body. And the doctors have managed to treat them and get rid of them. Lydia is on a maintenance drug and is doing quite well.

Interestingly, Lydia never smoked a day in her life. When she developed a dry cough, nobody tested her for lung cancer. It took months for a doctor to decide to rule out cancer … and find it instead. Makes you wonder if she’d have been better off if she had smoked previously. At least, if that was the case, the doctors would have nearly immediately tested for lung cancer.

The other lady had smoked, but she quit 23 years previous. Her lung cancer was discovered as a result of her having a skin cancer examined. For some reason, they decided to do a lung x-ray, too. Like me, she had no symptoms whatsoever.

I, too, smoked, but I had quit five or six years before my cancer was discovered. When I agreed to have a CT scan just to be sure I didn’t have cancer, I was certain that I would get a clean report. Wrong!

So … here are some lessons! Lung cancer doesn’t attack only smokers – current or former. It certainly increases the odds of getting it if you do smoke, but that is not a criteria.

Even though the cancer is spreading through your body and advancing to stage III or IV, it is entirely possible that you will have no symptoms at all. By the time you have symptoms, you may well be way too sickly to ever recover. Scary stuff!

The purpose of this blog, though, is not to scare anyone. Rather, it is my hope that it will be encouraging. The statistics say that only 41.2% of people diagnosed with lung cancer survive the first year. Only 26% survive the second year. Scary statistics.

But, of the three of us who were in that room, one has had the cancer for a little less than a year, but it seems likely she will still be living after a year. One of us has beat the odds for over 5 years. And I am well into the second year of my battle. A lung cancer diagnosis is scary, but it is not an automatic death sentence. That’s what I want people to understand and believe.

 

Facts and Statistics – Please Help Support Lung Cancer Research

Lung cancer has a stigma associated with it that most other cancers do not. It seems that people almost think that those who get lung cancer deserve it. The first questions you ask when you hear of that diagnosis are, “Do you smoke? Did you smoke? For how long and how much?” And, if ever in their life the person smoked, subconsciously you think, “Well, you should have known better. You should not have smoked and you would not be sick now.” Probably as a result of this thinking, fundraising for lung cancer lags far behind that of breast cancer and some other cancers.

Below are some facts and statistics about lung cancer. If you ever decide to donate toward cancer research, I hope you will consider earmarking your contribution to lung cancer.

 

  • Lung cancer (both small cell and non-small cell) is the second most common cancer in both men and women
  • Lung cancer accounts for about 14% of all new cancers
  • In 2013, there were 228,190 new cases of lung cancer (118,080 in men; 110,110 in women)
  • In 2013, there were an estimated 159,480 deaths from lung cancer; accounting for about 27% of all cancer deaths
  • Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined
  • Overall, the chance that a man will develop lung cancer in his lifetime is about 1 in 13; for a woman, the risk is about 1 in 16
  • Only 15.6% of people diagnosed with lung cancer will still be alive five years after diagnosis.
http://www.cancer.org/cancer/lungcancer-non-smallcell/detailedguide/non-small-cell-lung-cancer-key-statistics
http://seer.cancer.gov/faststats/selections.php?#Output
 

Gratitude

Gratitude is good! And I’m filled with it!

I have only one son and we’ve been estranged for awhile. It was really hard on him when he learned I had lung cancer. I’ve been his rock for most of his life and the thought that he might lose that freaked him out. Things got even more difficult for him when his wife left him and took his three boys with her only a month or so after I learned I was sick.

For nearly a year, we had little contact and what little we had, was not great. He asked me if we couldn’t let bygones be bygones … so there’s no real need to converse about the particulars. But, I want to set the stage for why I am grateful today.

My son has had a lot of trauma and drama in his life. For many years he chose to look at the negatives rather than the positives. He remembered the bad things that happened to him but could not recall the good times. Despite the fact that I live my life looking at the bright side most of the time, I could never convince him that doing so would make him a much happier person. He went through many years drugged on legal drugs obtained through the Veteran’s Administration. They were the only way he could cope with life.

I was not particularly excited when I learned that he and his girlfriend would be coming to town last week. In fact, it took lots of prayer and remembering the Biblical story of the Prodigal Son to even agree to see them, much less allow them to come to my home. As I said, there was lots of water under the bridge and letting those bygones be bygones is not as easily done as requested.

After I was diagnosed with cancer, I decided that life was way too short to spend it in the middle of dramatic situations. I explained to him that I now avoid drama like the plague and could not put up with him bringing any when he arrived here. He agreed, but I wasn’t wholly convinced we could avoid it.

I am delighted to say that I was wrong. Way wrong. My son is as happy as I can remember seeing him for years and years. His girlfriend has done what I was unable to do – taught him to examine a situation and look for the good in it. For the first time in 20 years or more, he is contented. Confident. Happy from the inside out. Do you know what joy that brings a mom? A dad? Gratitude.

Divorced

 

The reason my son came home was to go to court to finalize his divorce. The divorce went pretty much like he wanted, giving him liberal visitation rights. The boys have always been his reason for being … they make him whole. The knowledge that he can legally see them every other weekend, holidays, and school breaks fills him with joy.

Needless to say, he wanted to see the boys the first weekend after the divorce finalized. Unfortunately, that weekend was their Mom’s weekend. She didn’t have to allow him to see the kids if she chose not to. That would mean he would either not get to see the kids at all while he was in town or that he would have to stay an entire week longer so that he could see them on “his” weekend.

Fortunately, his ex-wife agreed to let the kids come over on that weekend. She drove them all the way to our house – a trip clear across Dallas. And allowed them to stay from Friday night until Sunday afternoon. Gratitude.

Reunion


My son had not seen his boys for 13 months. The way they had been torn apart left us apprehensive about what their reaction to their dad would be when they finally reunited. Their last memories of their dad were not good ones. We expected that they might be reticent or worse, especially the baby, who was only 3 when they were separated. 

Imagine how happy we all were when the boys arrived and ran yelling and screaming into their dad’s arms – excited beyond words to see him again. There was not one second needed to warm up. While they had never once brought him up to me during the time he was gone, it was obvious they missed him terribly. Far more than we could realize.

Gratitude.

The boys noticed the change in their dad. They could see and sense the contentment. The entire weekend passed without him raising his voice a single time. He laughed with them and played with them and hugged them close. And loved them. Oh so much.

When the time came for their mom to take them back home, it was very emotional. It was doubly hard because my son and his girlfriend were leaving for their home out of state the following day. No one knows when the next reunion will occur. One thing we do know though is this: God willing, there WILL be another reunion and it won’t take another 13 months to occur.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




Gratitude.

2014 – Here We Come – Ready or Not!!!

Wow! 2014!! Where have the years gone? They speed by quicker and quicker! It is already the middle of January and it seems like it was only yesterday that we celebrated Christmas!

Retired!

The biggest news for 2014 (so far) is that, as of 1/1/2014, I am retired!!! I never, ever thought I would see the day! I mentioned in an earlier post that there were some advantages to having stage IV lung cancer. I know most of you think I’m crazy (maybe so!!!), but if I didn’t have cancer, I would still be working. For quite a few more years… Instead, I am getting to enjoy me time now while I can still enjoy it. The downside is that we have to go to treatments every two weeks, but the upside is that the treatment is working so I can enjoy being retired! 🙂

I am not sure that it has really sunk in that I don’t have to go to work on this coming Monday. Vacation isn’t going to end in another week! What a liberating feeling. Especially after being pretty miserable for the last few years at my job.

My challenge is going to be keeping myself from getting completely lazy. There have been a few days when I woke up and decided to just go back to sleep since I didn’t have anything I really wanted to do. Don’t get me wrong. There is PLENTY to do around here!! Plenty! It’s a matter of “wanna” … and I haven’t had the wanna to get into my closet or the study and tackle the mess that each place holds. Maybe next week.

Before I retired, I envisioned myself spending lots of hours playing with my dogs – mostly hiking and having a great time enjoying the outdoors. Maybe it will still happen. It just so happens that last week was mostly really cold and sort of dreary … my mood reflected the weather, for sure.

I thought I would be out and about with my camera – taking pictures of flowers, birds, insects, squirrels … whatever I could find basically. Again, I hope it was the weather that stymied those plans.

I haven’t had the luxury of not working since I was about 20 years old. Lots of my life was spent working full time, much of the time working full-time as an employee and running my own business. For several years, I added full-time student to the mix … those were interesting times!!! Thinking back on them STILL makes me tired 🙂 Always, there was wife and mom in the equation … and I always tried to be supermom and superwife … Yeah, like I said, looking back on those days makes me tired! And grateful they are in the past!

I guess it will take a little while to decide how to approach retirement. The idea of not having to do anything (except go to chemo every 2 weeks) is almost overwhelming. But, in a mostly good way!

RV

Robert and I have talked seriously about buying an RV and traveling around our great country. Since I’ve always had to work, we haven’t done much traveling. I know a lot of people work and still manage to travel, but I always found that trips were tiring and I chose to use my vacation time to rest and recuperate. So, now that work is no longer an issue, we have really considered purchasing a home on wheels and beginning to explore the United States. Robert wants to be in Arizona when the professional baseball teams are in spring training. And, we (mostly me) have thought it might be fun to travel all around to different agility trials.

Well, we went to a big RV show in Fort Worth this week. I had looked forward to that show for months. I left so confused. I thought I wanted an RV that you drive – so the dogs would have more room as we traveled from place to place. Plus, I thought it would be easier to drive a vehicle that is all one piece!

We looked at so many recreational vehicles it would make your head spin (and your legs feel like they were about to drop off). And, I was left wondering if maybe a fifth wheel RV wouldn’t be the better choice. Huh? Where did that come from?! I hadn’t entertained that thought AT ALL until walking around the show.

Then there is that part of me that wonders if we want an RV at all. They are expensive in every way: to purchase, to drive, to park, and to store. Some of the RV parks that I looked at cost more per night to use than a La Quinta or similar hotel. Maybe we should just buy a nice SUV and drive that across the country and stay at hotels and cabins, etc. along the way. It would be far more economical.

Or shoot. Maybe we should just purchase a lakehouse and forget about traveling. A home on the lake with property where the dogs can run and play sounds pretty relaxing. I’ve gone this long without really seeing America. Is it really all that important that I start now?

So, there you have it! Conundrum!

But, as I sit and reflect on all of the questions and decisions that await us, I am amazed again that I am here and that these questions and decisions are even there to be made! I say it pretty often and it is because I truly believe it – I am so, so, so very lucky. And blessed. A lot of lung cancer patients WISH they could be more concerned with these kinds of questions and a whole lot less concerned with how the chemo makes them feel and what can be done to stop their tumors from spreading and slowly taking over their bodies and killing them.

I remain fully aware that the day may come when the drug I am on quits working. And my tumors will no longer remain dormant. At any time, the cancer may decide it has sat for long enough without movement and spread through my body in weeks or months. Life is not certain. But, the truth is, life is not certain for any of us. Not at all. And each of us should probably strive to keep that thought in the forefront of our minds. It might help us quit sweating the small stuff.