We got the dreaded and totally unexpected news that my 48-year-old dad had stage IV lung cancer after he underwent a routine physical exam. He’d been having some pain in his knee, but we (and all of the doctors he saw) attributed it to some sort of strain that he got from driving from Texas to Washington, DC and back again in a relatively short period of time. Otherwise, he had no symptoms of any disease, much less lung cancer.
Five years ago today, May 8, 2013, I quit getting chemotherapy. I have to say, it was a happy, happy day for me to learn that I would not be getting chemo any longer. Chemo and I … we didn’t deal well with one another. No matter how many anti-nausea pills I took, no matter how long I took steroids, no matter what, I was sick, sick, sick from my treatments.
I’ve never been a sickly person. At all. I didn’t even have a primary care doctor that fateful day when I finally went in to see why I kept gaining weight … and we discovered that I had late-stage lung cancer. I hadn’t seen a doctor for 10 years or more (yeah, I’m one of those people who definitely didn’t take care of themselves with regular screenings or anything else).
So, when I was so sick from chemo, I didn’t deal well with it. I don’t know, maybe even if I had been more sickly, I still wouldn’t have dealt well with it! There were times, many times, when I wondered if it was even worth going through the treatments. I was spending way too much of my very limited time (my oncologist projected 4 months before I passed away) in bed, too sick to eat or drink or do anything except try to sleep away the misery.
At the same time as I was celebrating the fact that I was getting a break from chemotherapy, there was definitely some fear associated with quitting treatments! No treatments meant nothing was being done to hold those tumors at bay. Sure, they’d responded and shrunk some during treatments, but that was because we were bombarding them with poisons!
My doctor hoped that I could take a break from the chemo and that the tumors would stay stable or, if they grew, would do so slowly. Unfortunately, as we would discover when I had my next scan, his hopes were not realized. All of the progress we had made against the tumors was lost during the short time I was not receiving treatments.
As I sit here today, pondering my life and the fact that I am still here, I am grateful that I was diagnosed with my cancer when I was. It is sobering to think that if I had been diagnosed only one year earlier, I would probably be dead.
Stop and think about that for just a moment. It is hard to think about. And, many of us have friends and loved ones who have succumbed to the disease, even recently. They were diagnosed too soon to be saved. Why? Well, partly because lung cancer is a really tricky disease. You often don’t have symptoms until you have only months left to live. So, doctors are faced with an uphill battle because late-stage cancer is really difficult to treat.
Another reason why we are still losing way too many of those diagnosed with lung cancer is because it is so very severely underfunded. Researchers are making such tremendous progress in finding new ways to treat this insidious disease, but they are limited by the lack of money available to them. It boggles my mind to think about what they could be doing if they had the kind of money that breast cancer or prostate cancer gets each year.
So, the purpose of this post is two-fold. First, I want to thank everyone who generously gives to help fund research. You are quite literally lifesavers. If not for your heart and your help, people like me would not have had cutting-edge therapies to try when chemotherapy quit working. Thank you, thank you, thank you! From the bottom of my heart, thank you!
The second is that I want to encourage everyone to give to lung cancer research. It doesn’t have to be much. If everyone I know gave only $5 or $10, it would add up to a reasonable amount of money. If they shared with their friends and their friends gave only $5 or $10, the cost of a Starbucks and a donut, the funding would begin to snowball and just think of where we might be in finding … dare I say … cures … or, at least, therapies that could help treat this disease as a chronic illness instead of the killer it still is.
It hurts my feelings and boggles my mind that I have so much trouble getting people to give to this cause. It hurts my feelings because I take it very personally. It’s MY LIFE I am advocating for! Opdivo is keeping me alive right now. But, when it quits working, there is not another treatment for me to try. Selfishly, I want researchers well-funded so that I have some more options when that time comes.
It boggles my mind because even those who contact me and want me to pray for or talk to a loved one of theirs who has been diagnosed don’t give toward finding better therapies. If not those who either have someone living with or who has died from lung cancer, then who can we expect to help fund life-saving research?
Where can you donate? A few of the foundations that I support are:
LUNGevity (if there is a way to designate that you’re donating on my behalf, please do!)
Lung Cancer Research Foundation (where Free to Breathe merged) – I will be posting a link to a donation site on my behalf soon)
Lung Cancer Alliance (if there is a way to designate that you’re donating on my behalf, please do!)
Cancer Research Institute (not lung cancer specific, but cutting edge in immunotherapy)
I am on a forum with people who have all kinds of cancer. A lot of the members have had breast cancer so many posts there relate to issues concerning that disease.
Recently, someone posted a message saying that the federal government’s Office on Women’s Health (OWH) had deleted all references to breast cancer, despite once having a rather robust amount of information available. Those with breast cancer were quite upset about the information being removed. Honestly, I thought it was a little odd, too, that it would be removed.
About the Life and Breath Rally
Needed: EVERYONE — No joke. We need everyone’s voice and support.
Date: Thursday, April 26, 2018
Time: 10 a.m. to noon
Place: Capitol Hill, Washington, DC
(First St. SE & Independence Ave. SE – on the east side of the Capitol building)
Nearest Metro Stop: Capitol South on the Orange, Blue and Silver lines
Register here: https://www.LABrally.eventbrite.com
Everyone needs to try to come if they can ! If we don’t raise awareness, who will? We have to get the word out that funding for lung cancer is not equitable and that people with lungs get lung cancer, not just smokers!!
If you cannot attend, please, please, please write to your legislators. If enough of us demand equitable funding for this national disgrace, it will happen.
Remember, 1 in 17 women and 1 in 16 men will be diagnosed with lung cancer. Which one of your friends or family members will it be? Don’t you hope that there is a treatment, if not a cure, to save them?
Lung cancer affects us all. And it is up to each and every one of us to do our part to see equitable funding for research.
I have to begin this blog on a sad note. There have been personal and national tragedies that occurred since I agreed to write a blog about hope and optimism. I lost three friends to cancer in a week’s time … and last night, my city lost five police officers who were gunned down in cold blood while doing their job of overseeing a peaceful protest march. Sometimes, events make it hard to see joy and optimism, but it’s still there. We just have to look a little harder.
Even though I will miss my friends badly, they each outlived their prognosis for stage IV lung cancer by years. The reason they beat the statistics and had years added to their lives after being diagnosed is because of the huge advances being made every single day in new treatment options.
originally published July 14, 2016
I am sitting here staring at a blank sheet of paper, wondering what I have to say to you that will be worth your time reading it. I am no scientist. With the advent of chemo brain, I don’t even really enjoy reading and researching like I once did. So I have no great wisdom to impart.
What I do have to pass along is hope. Such a little word but one that has the ability to change your life. Hope crowds out anxiety and pushes away fear. It fills you with peace and can motivate you. ….More
I was just looking at my Facebook memories. I love those! I find myself posting things I want to remember to Facebook now so that they will show up in my memories in the future. Am I the only person who does that? More…
A few years ago, I wrote a number of blog posts for Patient Power. I am going to provide links to them on my blog. Happiness is My Normal was originally posted 4/28/2016
Imagine my surprise when I got a call on Friday from the American Lung Association asking if I would be available to interview with NBC Nightly News about my journey with lung cancer and immunotherapy. Oh my goodness!!! They apologized because it was short notice … and I was thinking, “Who cares??? Thank you, thank you, thank you for the opportunity!!!”
I spoke with the person who was going to be putting the story together on Friday. There was a caveat. The spot might or might not make it. And, we wouldn’t know until Sunday night or Monday morning. And, the interview needed to take place on Monday morning!
Lucky for me, the appointment for my first-ever monthly immunotherapy infusion was set for 3 PM on Monday, the latest it has ever been scheduled. That gave me enough time to do the interview and still make it to my appointment.
I’m not a housekeeper. I wish I was, but I’m just not. I get really tired when I think about pushing around the vacuum cleaner or finding spots for all of the stuff we seem to collect. (Keep in mind, that fatigue lifts immediately if someone offers the opportunity to do something I think is fun…) So, when the call came early Monday morning that the show would go on, I had to scurry, scurry to get at least one room of the house clean enough to be on NBC Nightly News!!
While I was getting ready for the interview, I received an email from another person at NBC News. She wanted to know if I could do a phone interview with her for a piece she was writing for their Web site. Wow! Well, yes!!! I will definitely find the time for that!! It is an advocate’s dream to reach as large an audience as possible with our stories!
I had barely hung up the phone when the person arrived to tape my interview for the news. My part was taped at my house, but I was interviewed by people in Washington, DC. That was interesting to do because I couldn’t see their faces so I wasn’t sure if I was answering the questions like they expected or if I had said enough or too much … I was honestly surprised at the clips they chose to use in the story because those were some where I thought I might not be responding as they would have expected.
It takes a long time to get a minute’s worth of video for something!! The guy who did the filming … I’m not sure what his title would be … arrived at 10 AM. He was still uploading footage to NBC at 1:30 PM. I had to tell him we had to leave because we hadn’t had anything to eat yet and I had to be at UTSW for an infusion by 3. It takes an hour to get there, so we were pushed for time!
I so wanted to be home in time to see the NBC Nightly News, but it was not to be. Things moved like molasses at the infusion center. It took longer for my bloodwork to be processed and then it took awhile for my Opdivo to get ready. I was still sitting in the infusion chair when the 5:30 Nightly News came on.
I’ve never done it before and might not have done it if I wasn’t the last person in the infusion center, but I asked if they would change the channel to the news so I could watch. I don’t think they believed me when I said I was going to be on it.
It started out showing me with my dogs. How appropriate!!! My dogs are a big, big part of my life. I thought it was awesome that they included them in the news piece!
One other thing before I have to run and get ready for a fun day photographing bluebonnets with a friend who in Texas from Florida – it has been so much fun hearing from people from all across the US who saw the news report and wrote to me. I have sure enjoyed getting in touch!!
So, without further adieu, here is the news article that Maggie Fox wrote. Embedded in it is a link to the news story.
I had the most disconcerting dreams last night or early this morning. I dreamed first that I was on some sort of gas-powered bicycle (it looked like a regular racing bike in my dream). I stopped at a gas station to buy a dollar or two of gas, which was all it took, and decided, right then and there, that I was going to begin to bicycle across America to bring attention to the sad facts about lung cancer:
- #433aDay die from it – that’s 155,000+ per year
- While it kills more people each year than breast+prostate+pancreas+colon cancers combined, it gets less attention, certainly less than breast and/or prostate
- Women need to stop fearing breast cancer like they do and start looking beneath that fatty tissue to their lungs. Lung cancer kills nearly twice as many women each year as breast cancer. (Breast cancer screening is vitally important. I don’t mean to imply otherwise.)
- The amount of federal funding relegated to finding a cure or at least new treatments to prolong the lives of those with lung cancer is far, far less than that received by other cancer based on funding per life lost.
- Anyone … ANYONE … with lungs is susceptible to being diagnosed with lung cancer. It is not a smoker’s disease. It is a breather’s disease.
In my dream, while at the gas station, I started trying to figure out how my ride was going to work. Where would I sleep? How would I advertise the facts I wantedpeople to know? What would happen when my tires blew out? How would I carry spares and how would I fix the bike? When would I eat? Just how would this ride across America work? Where would I get my cancer treatments? I surely could not complete this jaunt in one month, between my treatments.
You have to realize how idiotic this dream is. I haven’t been on a real bicycle in 30 years or more. I am 64 years old, with stage 4 lung cancer. I have been working out a bit most every week since the first of the year, but certainly, nowhere near enough to ride a bicycle across America, not even some rigged up gas-powered bicycle.
So, in my dream, I decided I wouldn’t ride the bicycle after all. Nope. I have two good legs. I would walk. I had a big, floppy felt hat. I was good to go. But, again, the questions arose: where would I sleep? How far could I walk each day? What would happen when my shoes wore out? Am I strong enough to carry a backpack for a mile, much less thousands of miles? (The answer to that is no!)
Okay … walking and bicycling, even in my dream, really didn’t make any sense at all. But, I was still left pondering how I, as one person, can make a difference, can bring attention to this terrible disease that isn’t, but should be, an outrage and embarrassment in America?
Still, I thought, how neat it would be to take a foot-trip across this Nation, camera and notepad in tow. Every day, I would take pictures and write blogs about what I saw, how I felt. And, people passing me on the highways and byways of this great land would come to know my story … and far more importantly, the story of every lung cancer patient, past, present, and future. Finally, perhaps news channels would begin to follow my journey and suddenly maybe the public would start to be educated about this killer that’s unfairly tagged the smoker’s disease.
Maybe serious conversations would finally start to take place. Maybe.
To borrow the title of one of my favorite songs:
I can only imagine.