I just read a draft of a blog post I wrote awhile back and the old children’s song we used to sing in church came to my mind, “There’s joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart, down in my heart, there’s joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, today!” I don’t know about you, but that little ditty is now going through my mind, over and over again. And, it is making me smile!! And, sing! Out loud! Loud! (My husband is going to wake up and wonder what in the world has happened to his wife!!)
When I was diagnosed with lung cancer, the chances that a late-stage lung cancer patient would live five years was merely 4%. In fact, the American Lung Association, even today, gives the following survival rates:
“The five-year survival rate for lung cancer is 55 percent for cases detected when the disease is still localized (within the lungs). However, only 16 percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at an early stage. For distant tumors (spread to other organs) the five-year survival rate is only 4 percent.”1
I remember the days following my diagnosis as if they were yesterday. I was told I might not have very many more days here on earth, so I decided I better enjoy and make the most of the days I had. And, even though my initial prognosis was only four months, I somehow decided from the very beginning that I was going to try to bring hope to others with this disease.
Don’t let the diagnosis steal your joy
When my mom, husband and I showed up for my first chemo treatment, I wore a t-shirt that said, “It’s about the journey” and that’s the attitude I have tried to adopt. I asked my husband to video my first chemo treatment. I wanted to post it online to document the fact that a dire cancer diagnosis doesn’t have to be scary, doesn’t have to steal your joy.
Way too many of us find that we can no longer continue to work at an 8-5 job after we are diagnosed with cancer. Besides the challenges of having to miss work all of the time to go to doctor’s appointments and to have regular scans and infusions, many of us simply no longer feel good enough to be able to go to work every day.
For me, deciding to quit working was difficult. I didn’t have quite enough time in to receive my full social security benefits and I didn’t have quite enough time in to get my full teacher retirement benefits either. So, when I quit working, our income took a major hit.
No money meant a real lifestyle change. I know I am not the only person who has faced this particular challenge.
I attended a LUNGevity Lunch and Learn meeting yesterday. During the Survivor Stories session, a man I will call Jack began telling his story. He was diagnosed with advanced small cell lung cancer a year or two ago. His oncologist told him that he would likely live for 2 to 4 months if he did no treatments and that he would likely live 6 to 8 months if he underwent treatment.
Jack is a relatively young man, likely in his 50s, and wasn’t quite ready to throw in the towel on life. While undergoing traditional treatments, he began researching the use of medical marijuana. He wanted to find a cure for his cancer more than he wanted to find a way to control his side effects, the use we hear of most frequently in relation to medical marijuana.
I have two dogs. One white. One black. One female. One male. As different from one another as night and day. But, I consider them both lifesavers.
Not compromising for cancer
When I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, my oncologist asked me if I had any questions. I said, “Yes, can I continue to play agility with my dogs?” He was dumbfounded. I think he had never gotten such a question from someone who had just received what could have been (and he thought was) a death sentence.
Back in the day, when it was suspected that we had cancer, we were sent for a biopsy. The cells were studied to determine if we had cancer and what kind of cancer we were facing. And, we never had another biopsy.
Rethinking how we approach treatment
But, we need to rethink that in today’s world. Dr. Fred Ashbury, Adjunct Professor at Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto (along with many other credentials), explained in a recent webcast why we should always insist on new biopsies when our tumors begin to grow or spread.1
Like with all of us, my cancer diagnosis threw a real wrench into my life. Suddenly, what was easy and taken-for-granted was no longer easy at all. For instance, working at an 8-5 job became a true challenge.
Feelings of guilt
I was actually fortunate that my employer was fairly generous with the time off they gave me. They never complained about me leaving early when I became so fatigued I had to go home, the multitude of hours I missed to see the doctor, or the days when I was simply too sick from chemo to go to the office. Even though they didn’t complain, I felt terribly guilty.
Do you remember when you were first diagnosed or when you received word that your tumors were on the move again? It was a very scary time, without a doubt. But, in my mind, it was also a time when life slowed down. Not in terms of doctor appointments and all manner of tests, but in general. All of a sudden, I started looking at and seeing everything around me.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Melody Beattie
Begin your day with gratitude
Sometimes when we are delivered a blow, like learning that we or a loved one has lung cancer, it is hard to find reasons to be grateful. But, I believe that searching for and finding gratitude, even in the face of adversity, is vital.