For some reason, every time one of my friends knows someone with lung cancer, they turn to me for comfort. I don’t really know why, except that they know I have “been there done that.” I’m very happy to help in any way I can. More often than not, the person with cancer doesn’t want to talk to me, but their loved ones do. I guess I give them some perspective on what it is like to live with lung cancer.
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.
Today is World Cancer Day. I meant to get my picture taken holding up a “We Can I Can” sign to share on LungCancer.net … but I didn’t get it done. Maybe I will get it done before today is out and will post it here…
According to the American Cancer Society, a total of 1,688,780 of us were diagnosed with cancer in 2017. Of those, 135,430 were diagnosed with colon/rectal cancer (this is largely preventable – get those colonoscopies!!!!!), 222,500 will be diagnosed with lung/bronchus cancer, 252,710 females will be diagnosed with breast cancer (it is rare, but men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer), and 161,360 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. (https://www.cancer.org/…/estimated-new-cases-for-the-four-m…)
“So? What does this mean to me?,” you ask.
Well, here’s the deal … We Can and I Can … or more like I Can and We Can make a difference … because I can contribute, but my contributions are small. Our family doesn’t have much money these days. I have more time than money but even time is somewhat limited. So, I can do a small part in volunteering and in contributing money … but all alone, my contribution won’t make much difference at all.
BUT, what WE CAN do together …
Sit and imagine it. Just for a minute. 30 seconds. If every single one of us reached into our pockets and pulled out a five dollar bill or $10, it truly wouldn’t hurt most of us much. Many of us would never realize it was missing from our pocket.
But, if we all took that small amount of money and contributed it to a cancer organization today, the impact would be earth-shattering. Naturally, I hope that the contribution would go to a lung cancer organization, but everyone has their favorite cancer charity … and impacting cancer is the theme of today.
How many of you played agility today? What did a single run cost? How long did that run last? Have enough money to play a game but not enough to donate? All I can say is that I hope you never get those dreaded words from your doctor, “You have cancer.” or hear them from someone you love, “I have cancer.”
How many of you stopped by Starbucks for a coffee today? How much was that coffee? How many lattes would you have to give up to find $10 to donate?
My finances suck these days, but I can tell you that I can find $10 to donate and I won’t even actually miss it much. Maybe I will have to cook one more meal at home or eat a sandwich or something, but I can come up with $10. I suspect that 99% of my friends can, too.
So, let’s play “We Can, I Can”
- I can donate $10. We can save thousands of lives by supporting cancer research.
- I can write a blog. We can share the message. Let people know that they need early screening, colonoscopies, mammograms … Find that cancer early and it is almost always curable.
- I can beg for $10. We can all ask everyone we know to contribute a small amount of money and our research organizations will be scrambling to find places to use it all!!! What a picture!!!
- I can share a link: http://yourcancergameplan.com. We can click on it, pick a cancer charity to receive $5 (out of someone else’s pocket), and share it with our friends on Facebook and Twitter (through March 1, 2018). (Get your cancer game plan at the same time. The life you save may be your own.)
- I can make a small difference. Together WE CAN change the face of cancer. How about that??!!
What’s holding you back? Please, write that check. Or, heck, put it on your credit card. $10. Not going to break the vast majority of us. Most of us won’t even know we’re missing it. (And, if you’re SO strapped for money, think about one little thing you can do without for one little week in order to help get researchers the money they need to help keep those of us with cancer and those yet to get cancer alive!!!)
Thanks in advance for your generosity.
(Keep in mind that just because you didn’t see this ON World Cancer Day, your $10 (or however much you can donate) will still make a BIG difference any time you send it.)
(Some of my favorite charities are American Lung Association, Bonnie J Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, Lung Cancer Research Foundation (formerly Free to Breathe), LUNGevity, Cancer Research Institute, Cancer Support Communities … There are more. These are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Please always use CharityNavigator prior to donating. Make sure that the dollars you give are actually going toward program costs!! Too many well-known charities seem to be in business for themselves more than for the cause they are supposed to benefit.)
Just this morning, I heard about a 29-year old man who has been diagnosed with lung cancer who wants to raise awareness about the disease by having his state offer specialized “beat lung cancer” license tags. Stephen Huff is among a growing number of young adults who are being diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer. They never smoked. They were active. They were healthy. They’re young. And, yet, they are fighting the most deadly cancer there is.
It used to be that when you thought of lung cancer, your mind’s eye saw a wrinkled old man with a half-burned, long-ash cigarette hanging out of his mouth or an elderly woman holding a burning cigarette in her tobacco-stained fingers. You hear hacking and coughing and have a generally negative attitude about the whole person/disease/addiction.
The picture of what lung cancer looks and sounds like needs to change and it needs to change NOW. In today’s world, your mind would be just as accurate if it saw a virile, 20-something with a racing bib on. Or, a 40-year-old mom cheering on her son’s soccer team. Or, your next door neighbor who never smoked and was never around cigarette smoke. Or you.
Smoking is still the number one cause of lung cancer, but every year, more and more nonsmokers are being diagnosed with lung cancer. Especially for nonsmokers, the disease is usually not diagnosed until it is stage III or IV since no one, not the patient, not the doctor, suspects lung cancer as the cause of symptoms until every other possible option has been exhausted at least once.
And, as an aside, even IF the person diagnosed with cancer is or was addicted to tobacco, do they really deserve to die? In today’s world of acceptance (gays, transgenders, races, nationalities, religions, the list goes on and on), we do not, DO NOT, accept smokers. Whether conscious or not, we as a society are perfectly willing for those evil smokers to fight and die from lung cancer because somehow they deserve what they got. Individuals, companies, and government agencies all withhold their money from lung cancer research because, however wrong, they believe it is a cause that does not deserve support.
Stepping back off of that soapbox, I’ll climb onto another …
Mr. Huff, the young man recently diagnosed with stage IV nonsmall cell lung cancer, is asking his state legislators to offer lung cancer awareness license plates. The plates will cost taxpayers an additional $55. Half of those funds would be sent to his chosen charity to help pay for more research. At this point, he doesn’t think raising money will help save his own life, but he is adamant that more funding for research will save lives in the future.
I agree that it is crucial to get more funding in the hands of researchers. When I look at the tremendous progress that has been made already, despite every possible financial obstacle being thrown in the way, my mind can’t comprehend what scientists could accomplish with adequate funding. According to LUNGevity, only six percent of federal dollars devoted to cancer research goes to lung cancer research. How does this add up? The most deadly cancer gets the least amount of funding? Boy! Some stigmas die hard, do they not?
Let’s put the disparity in funding into hard, cold facts:
During his interview, Mr. Huff was asked why he was trying to get the state to issue license tags supporting lung cancer research. His response is one I hope we all will consider,
“If I don’t do it, who will?”
Who knew? LOL! It seems like there is something to celebrate every single month of the year! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!
Sad Facts About Lung Cancer
When I was first diagnosed with cancer back in October 2012, no one expected me to live very long. Stage IV lung cancer is pretty deadly. The following facts are from the American Cancer Society’s Web site about lung cancer in 2015:
- About 221,200 new cases of lung cancer (115,610 in men and 105,590 in women)
- An estimated 158,040 deaths from lung cancer (86,380 in men and 71,660 among women)
Lung cancer accounts for about 27% of all cancer deaths and is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.
The later the stage of the cancer, the more likely it is that you will not survive even a year. Only 4% of those diagnosed with late stage (aka distant or metastisized) cancer are expected to live five years after diagnosis. The following information is copied from the American Lung Association:
- The lung cancer five-year survival rate (17.8%) is lower than many other leading cancer sites, such as the colon (65.4%), breast (90.5%) and prostate (99.6%).
- The five-year survival rate for lung cancer is 54.0 percent for cases detected when the disease is still localized (within the lungs). However, only 15 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 4.0 percent.
- Over half of people with lung cancer die within one year of being diagnosed.
If you let yourself think about it much, it will scare the living daylights out of you! According to Lung Cancer Alliance, 432 individuals die of lung cancer every single day.
Funding …. Or Lack Thereof
Before I step off of my soapbox, I need to address the sad lack of funding for lung cancer. It makes my blood boil. It should make everyone’s blood boil. Since lung cancer is the third most common (behind breast and prostate) and the most deadly cancer there is, it is bound to impact your life either directly (you get diagnosed yourself with it) or indirectly (someone you love gets diagnosed with it).
When someone hears a person has lung cancer, the first question is not, “Will they survive?” Nope, the question everyone asks is, “Oh, do they smoke?” Because we all know that (1) lung cancer only happens to smokers and (2) all smokers deserve to die of lung cancer because they brought it upon themselves. Right?
Let’s look at some facts. These are for 2015; they are not old and outdated.
In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 157,499 men and women will die of lung and bronchus cancer. (I realize this number differs slightly from what the American Cancer Society estimates. I do not know why the numbers are different, but they are both estimates.) During the same time, 52,028 people are expected to die from colorectal cancer, 41,557 women from breast cancer, 38,797 from pancreas cancer, and 27,245 men from prostate cancer.
Despite common belief, lung cancer affects never-smokers, too. And, in 2015, 28,192 of them are expected to die from the disease.
The fact is that only 20.9% of those diagnosed with lung cancer are active smokers. Nearly 18% (17.9%) have never put a cigarette to their lips. And, 60% are former smokers. Some of those former smokers have not smoked for 40 or more years. (These stats come from the CDC report, “Cigarette Smoking Among Adults – United States, 2006″.) So much for the fact that only smokers get lung cancer.
The federal government devotes billions of dollars to health issues. Funding for cancer is estimated to be $5,414,000,000 in 2015. Of that, $255 million will be dedicated to lung cancer. That amounts to a measly $1,153 allocated for each person expected to be diagnosed with lung cancer. Per death (158,040) from lung cancer, $1,619 is allocated.
By contrast, a total of $685 million is expected to be designated for breast cancer projects. According to the American Cancer Society, a whopping 231,841 individuals (mostly women, but men also get breast cancer) will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer during 2015. An additional 60,290 will be diagnosed with carcinoma in situ (the very earliest stage of breast cancer). Of all of those diagnosed, a total of 40,290 are expected to succumb to their breast cancer. The federal government is spending $17,002 in 2015 for every death that will occur from breast cancer.
Prostate cancer is the second most prevalent cancer in the United States. In 2015, the American Cancer Society expects that 220,800 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. It is expected that 27,540 men will perish from their prostate cancer. The federal government is expected to spend $255 million on prostate cancer (the exact same amount as being spent on lung cancer) in 2015. For every death from prostate cancer in 2015, Uncle Sam is spending $9,259.
Let’s look at this again:
Breast Cancer 40,290 deaths $17,002 allocated
Prostate Cancer 27,540 deaths $ 9,259 allocated
Lung Cancer 158,040 deaths $ 1,619 allocated
Does anyone else wonder why the disparity?
But, I digress. This post is about Immunotherapy.
Immunotherapy – A Life Giver
If one must be diagnosed with cancer, this is not a bad time. Scientists and researchers are on the brink of making astonishing discoveries. More strides are being made now than in previous decades. Exciting strides!
Immunotherapy is a treatment that allows a person’s own body to attack cancer cells. According to the Cancer Research Institute, immunotherapy “represents the most promising new cancer treatment approach since the development of the first chemotherapies in the late 1940s.”
Yes!! I agree!! Having been put through the horrors of chemotherapy, I can attest that immunotherapy is exciting. For anyone wishing to learn more about immunotherapy, a good place to start is the Cancer Research Institute.
When I was first diagnosed with lung cancer, I started a chemotherapy protocol of Carboplatin, Avastin, and Alimta. Avastin is not technically chemotherapy. It is a drug designed to starve tumors of blood supply (anti-angiogenic therapy). Alimta and Carboplatin are both chemotherapies that attack tumors, but also affect healthy cells. They are basically poisons. The hope is that they do more damage to cancer cells than healthy cells.
I can’t begin to describe what it is like to go through chemotherapy. I would get my infusions on a Thursday. By Saturday, I was in bed, except for when I had to be up throwing up. For two or three days, I would be so sick, I could just barely move. No anti-nausea medicine worked. On top of the extreme nausea, a fatigue that cannot be described set in. It was difficult to walk from the couch to the restroom or to the refrigerator without resting.
You gradually begin to feel better. By the end of the second week after the infusion, I could make myself, through sheer will power, go to agility practice. This is a testament to just how much I love agility! By the third week, I was feeling pretty good, considering.
Toward the end of the time that I received my chemo infusions, I was starting to get very depressed. It seemed so futile to finally feel better just to knowingly make myself sick again with yet another infusion. I am afraid that if the infusions had lasted much longer, I would have either quit them or would have had to take anti-depressants.
And, the fact is, I was healthier than most who were getting chemotherapy. My blood tests remained perfect throughout my treatments. Most people, at the least, have their white blood cell counts tank. No one really knows why mine didn’t. My blood pressure also stayed in the normal range.
Since you are being infused with poison when you are getting chemotherapy, you can only get it for so long before the benefits are outweighed by the drawbacks. Chemo itself can (and does) kill cancer patients. As noted by the World Journal of Clinical Oncology:
Over the past few decades, platinum based chemotherapy is the standard of care for advanced stages of NSCLC. These systemic therapies have significant toxicities and confer unacceptable morbidity.
My tumors responded well to the chemo treatments. They shrank by half or so. But, as soon as the chemo stopped, the tumors took off. They were back to their initial size in a matter of weeks.
My oncologist told me that I basically had two options. I could either (1) undergo a different kind of chemo, one that historically made people sicker and was less successful than the first treatment I received, or (2) I could get into a clinical trial and at least help researchers understand some of the new and coming treatments for lung cancer patients in the future.
I didn’t think for a second about the choice. I opted for participation in a clinical trial. I had no desire to be sicker than before! And, if I was going to die, I might as well be a guinea pig for those coming behind me. I really didn’t think much about the clinical trial affecting ME positively.
Nevertheless, the best thing that has happened to me during this cancer journey was the decision to participate in a clinical trial. Few choose this route. I’m astonished by that. I would more than likely be dead if I had chosen to just continue with the traditional treatments.
I started immunotherapy treatments in July 2013. Information about the trial I am participating in can be found at https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01673867?term=BMS-936558+Docetaxel&rank=2 and http://news.bms.com/press-release/opdivo-nivolumab-first-pd-1-inhibitor-demonstrate-superior-overall-survival-versus-sta. Unlike chemo treatments, immunotherapy does not poison you, so the treatments never end (unless they quit working). Because immunotherapy isn’t poisonous, you don’t suffer the horrid side effects of chemotherapy. Or, I haven’t. Some people don’t have quite the same positive reaction that I have, but many do.
I have been getting immunotherapy for nearly two years now. I get treatments every two weeks. I have CT scans every 6 weeks (so often, that I can now drink barium without gagging).
Like when I was getting chemotherapy, my blood tests have remained perfect throughout the treatments. Blood pressure and oxygen levels have stayed in the normal range. The only side effect from the immunotherapy that I have suffered is that my thyroid has quit working properly. No big deal. I just take Levothyroxin every morning to keep the thyroid functioning as it should.
The CT scans have shown that the tumors have not grown nor spread at all since I began immunotherapy. One radiologist who reads the scans calls the tumors “scars.” My oncologist does not necessarily agree that they are simply scars. Since we don’t know for sure, we continue the treatments. At the least, it is an insurance policy against the lung cancer.
Because of immunotherapy, I have totally reclaimed my life. I am back to running agility regularly. I keep testing my stamina levels and I keep passing those tests!! WhooHoo!!
As you have seen from my previous blog posts, I started a garden for the first time ever. I go to the movies and out to eat with friends. My calendar rarely has a day without something scheduled to do.
No one knows how long the immunotherapy will continue to work. But, from what researchers know now, patients do not build up a resistance to it like they do to targeted therapies. In addition, it appears that the immune system continues to work against tumors for an extended time even after treatments end.
Immunotherapies are being tested on all kinds of cancer. The Cancer Research Institute (CRI) shows how it is working on their site at http://www.cancerresearch.org/cancer-immunotherapy/impacting-all-cancers. The following quote is from the CRI:
From the preventive vaccine for cervical cancer to the first therapy ever proven to extend the lives of patients with metastatic melanoma, immunology has already led to major treatment breakthroughs for a number of cancers. Every cancer type is unique, though, and immunology and immunotherapy are impacting each cancer in different ways.
In the future, those diagnosed with cancer may never have to go through the horrors of chemotherapy. Perhaps even surgery and radiation can be avoided through the use of immunotherapy. And, the death rates from cancer may decline sharply.
P. S. If you have cancer and you are interested in immunotherapy, you can find out what trials are available by visiting the Clinical Trial Finder.
What does lung cancer look like? Do you suppose that it looks like someone who is about 70 years old, very emaciated, with a cigarette in her hand? Someone who looks like they are about to die?
Or do you envision a 20 year old girl with her whole life ahead of her? Except that she’s currently bald from her chemo treatments and searching desperately for the drugs that will keep her alive? Or, maybe you see a beautiful, cheerful 24 year old young woman who has already lost part of her lung? Girls who were physically active; girls who never smoked; girls who weren’t around smoke?
In the picture below, three of the people are not lung cancer survivors. Can you guess which three? I bet not. Because lung cancer doesn’t have “a look.”
|Photo credit: Randy Elles Photography LUNGevity Foundation — in Washington, District of Columbia.|
Who gets cancer? Is it the 20-something college student? Is it the 30-something veterinarian? The 40-something TV reporter? The 50-something long-distance bicycle rider? Is it your 60-something vegetarian neighbor? Is it your postal worker? Your doctor’s office receptionist? The professional baseball player? The IT superstar down the hall? Your doctor? If you answer “yes” to all of these, then you are absolutely correct.
The fact is, no one is immune. Whether or not they smoked. Whether or not they exercised. Whether or not they ate only vegetarian foods. If they have lungs, they are susceptible to getting lung cancer.
The scary thing about lung cancer is that there are not often many symptoms until it has advanced so far that there are not a lot of treatment options. If you suddenly develop a smoker’s cough, but you didn’t smoke, or if you have extreme shortness of breath, wheezing, or asthma-like symptoms, or if you begin to drop weight for no reason, you might have lung cancer. A CT scan can be done in a matter of minutes to detect if there are tumors in your lungs. The earlier lung cancer is detected, the more likely that you will survive.
|Photo credit: Randy Elles Photography LUNGevity Foundation — in Washington, District of Columbia.|
Here’s a link that I hope will stay active for a long time. It has pictures that were contributed to WhatNext.com by cancer survivors. Now, these people do not all have lung cancer, but they are all surviving some kind of cancer. I hope you’ll follow the link. I think you will be encouraged.
I don’t know about you, but what I notice most is how many of these individuals have large, happy smiles. Smiles that reach their eyes. These are cancer survivors (some who are “NED — No evidence of disease” and some who are newly diagnosed and in the throes of chemo). They have cancer. Cancer doesn’t have them.
|“You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”|
Albert Einstein once said, “In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.” I believe that. Do you?
The fact is that while I would never choose to have cancer, it has presented many opportunities for which I am very grateful. Isn’t that something?
My motto has been and continues to be, “I have cancer, Cancer doesn’t have me.” What’s that mean?, you ask. Well, it means that I try hard not to be defined by cancer. I try to live my life to the fullest.
In fact, in my way of thinking, every moment I spend worrying or fretting over having cancer is a moment where cancer wins this battle. It robs me of my joy for that length of time. I don’t know how much time I have left here on this earth (none of us do). But, what I know is that I want to make the most of every moment that I’m here!
Cancer has allowed me the opportunity to finally concentrate on me, not on everyone else around me. I always worked a job or two and put 110% of myself into it. With family obligations taking up the remaining hours in the day, there was just never really any time left over for Donna.
But, having cancer allowed me to quit working. What a blessing that was, especially since my job had gone from good to very, very bad with changing regimes. Politics. Aren’t they great? (NO!!!) For the first time in my adult life, I have had the time to do things that make me happy. And I have enjoyed that to the max!!!
You probably have already figured out what those things are that make me happy.
I’ll just state right at the beginning, my joy comes from the Lord. He is the reason for my happiness. He is the reason I do not worry about dying or about having cancer. He is the reason I can enjoy all of the activities listed below. Without the peace I have from Him, none of the rest of this would be possible.
I love, love, love agility. I found this sport late in life. I had really only just gotten started in it when I found out I had cancer. Barney and I were trialing nearly every weekend and sometimes Cotton came along! (She got to come along more often then than now … the one bad thing about this retirement stuff is that my income decreased by two-thirds. I have to be much more frugal than I used to be … talk about a hard lesson!!)
Barney was then and is now a superb agility partner. That little dog has a huge heart. He will play with me, over and over and over again, until I can’t go any longer. He tries so hard to please. Always, his goal is to make me happy. Because if mama is happy, everyone is happy! Seriously, he loves agility, but mostly he loves me and he wants to do what pleases me.
I was initially taught that running agility meant running alongside your dog, directing him or her to do whatever the next obstacle in the sequence was. Many venues require that you stay fairly close by your dog in order to direct him over the obstacles correctly. My venue of choice, NADAC, is a little different. It allows you to work away from your dog.
Running your dog with distance between you and him is a completely different way of handling. My personal belief is that it is more difficult to teach your dog to run without you right beside him. It is especially challenging when the dog has first been taught to work right beside you.
Barney and I are in the process of learning to work at a distance from one another. I practiced my new skills some at the Run As One trial over the Memorial Day weekend. The video above shows our runs from Sunday of the three day trial.
Practicing our newly learned skills at distance (we are still very new in the learning process) is only part of what made me smile at the Memorial Day trial. The other is that I had the stamina to go help set-up for the trial on Friday, run four runs on Saturday, return Sunday morning for three more runs, finish with three runs on Monday … and stay to help tear down and load up all of the equipment. Previously, I had only tried to trial one day for fear of being too tired the following day. REmarkABLE!!! I am so blessed.
I wish I had a dollar for every time Robert suggested I start a garden. I always refused. I was just not interested. Then, this spring, I changed my mind. I don’t even know why I decided this was the year I wanted to plant tomatoes and cucumbers and squash and zucchini. We have watermelon and cantaloupe and bell peppers. And okra. And something that I no longer remember what it is!!! I can’t wait for its fruit or vegetable to appear so I will know just what it is!!
I know nothing about gardening. Like a bull in a china cabinet, my typical way of doing things, I just started buying plants and putting them out in the ground. I STILL know nothing, but I am fortunate that my plants seem not to care all that much.
Here are some pictures I took this morning. I go out and look every single day. I take pictures at least a couple of times a week. Sometimes more often! The little fruits and vegetables are like my babies! I love watching them … except for an impatient person like myself, it is also a bit of a challenge!
|Now that the sun has begun shining again, the ‘maters are ripening!|
|The herb garden. Yum!!!|
|Zucchini? Squash? Cucumbers? All of the above?|
|Squash … some will be ready for picking very soon!|
|More tomatoes that will soon be ripe enough to pick and eat!|
|Yellow zucchini. The plant thrived while it rained daily. Not looking so good now.|
|The bell pepper!!! It will ultimately be a red pepper. There’s only one on the bush!|
|Watermelon. This plant has not always looked as healthy.|
|My Meyer Lemon Tree. What fun!|
I am learning as I go. Next year, I hope I learn from some of my mistakes. I crowded things this year. They looked so small and so widely spaced when I first planted them. Do I hear you laughing???? If you have done much gardening, I am sure you are!
I have been reading that you should plant certain plants with one another … and shouldn’t combine others. Next year, I hope to have an organized plan! This year, I just walked down the rows at Lowe’s and chose plants that would produce vegetables or fruit that I thought I might want to eat.
I gave away some of the first fruits of my labor. Carol got a bag with squash, zucchini, and a couple of tomatoes. I plucked a little tomato off of the vine yesterday morning as I was walking out of the backyard to the car. I gave that to Linda. I THINK I am going to have plenty to share. I hope so.
I guess it is pretty obvious from my blog that I enjoy photography! Having cancer has opened my eyes to all of the beauty that surrounds us. I love to take my camera and just explore the backyard. I NEED to take my camera and explore a little further away than my backyard!! But, for now, I have been content to wander through the yard and take pictures of dogs, flies, bees, flowers, fruits, and veggies … and an occasional lizard. Hopefully, there will be no opportunities to snap a photo of a snake.
The pictures below were taken this morning. I originally grabbed the camera because I saw the bees inside the flowers of the squash plant. I thought they were certainly worth a few pictures!! As long as I was out there with the camera, I explored a bit more!
|I love these delicate little flowers. No clue what they are.|
|Another little flower that I think is pretty. It is some wildflower that I planted.|
|This plant and the one below speak to me. This little weed is growing out of the brick wall!|
|This petunia came from I don’t know where. Like the little flower above, it is growing in a crack in the brick wall. Perseverance. At its best|
|That frog is lucky it is in the water. Cotton was VERY interested in it!|
|We have so many of these bugs. I don’t know what they are, but they sure like my new garden.|
|Flies like the garden too.|
|I love quotes. I love photography. On occasion, I try to combine the two. These are the bees that initially sent me running for the camera.|
My calendar is usually very full. I don’t like to have very many days when I don’t have something to do. Currently, I have agility class twice on Tuesday and once on Friday. I may have to quit going to the Tuesday night class – it is more traditional agility (where you run right beside your dog) and I don’t want to mess up what Barney and I are learning with our distance. We are going to be taking a break from our Friday class as well. It has just gotten too hot. So, for the summer, we will rely on practicing at the park at 7 AM rather than going to class at 10:30.
On days that I don’t have agility, I love to meet my friends for lunch and/or the movies. I rarely ever saw a movie before I retired. But, since I have been retired, I have been lucky enough to go to quite a few.
Walks. Linda and I complain nearly every single morning when we meet about how we didn’t want to come! We meet at 6:30 AM now that it has gotten so hot. We never want to get up. But, once we are at the park and walking, we’re glad we made the effort. The dogs love their walks as well. And, it is so good for us! On days that I don’t walk, I usually just waste the time that I would be spending getting some exercise. And, boy oh boy, do I need exercise!!
You should see my Kindle app. I have so many books on there just waiting on me to read them. I keep buying them for those times when I might not feel like doing the things I am doing now. I hope that day doesn’t come for a long time. But, when it comes, I’m prepared!!!
So back to the title of this post. “In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.” Cancer is my difficulty. But, oh the opportunities it has brought with it! If I hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer, I would still be plugging along at a job that I had grown to hate instead of enjoying every waking moment! There’s just never enough time to get everything done that I want to do! Even now! But, now all of the moments are full of things that I love to do.
Hedonistic? I feel like maybe so. But, I also think that I deserve the bliss I am experiencing now. Not because I have cancer, but because I have worked so very hard all of my life. It is wonderful to have the OPPORTUNITY to work hard at having fun instead of at a job.
You know, I try to stay really upbeat most of the time. I am fairly successful at it. Like Dann Wonser says, most trials and tribulations we lung cancer survivors face are very tiny, while cancer is VERY BIG. (http://www.dannwonser.com/blog/a-little-disaster-can-be-a-good-thing/5/4/2015 … you really HAVE to read this, it is hilarious!). I think many cancer patients agree that we no longer sweat the small stuff … and most everything we face in our lives besides cancer is small stuff.
But, I came across the following article today: http://www.ksat.com/content/pns/ksat/news/2015/05/08/questions-raised-over-funding-for-cancer-research.html. It distressed me a lot. As did most of the reaction I received after I posted on Facebook about it.
The article was written by Myra Arthur, an anchor/reporter for ABC affiliate KSAT-12, a San Antonio, TX affiliate. Ms Arthur questions, as do I, why funding for lung cancer research trails so far behind that of other cancers, especially breast and prostate. Her advocacy makes me wonder if somehow her life, too, hasn’t been touched by lung cancer. Most people ignore it otherwise. That’s just the sad fact.
Facts – Ho Hum … But Necessary!
Here are some facts about cancer – some good, some not so good:
1. The two largest federal agencies that fund cancer research are the National Cancer Institute and the Department of Defense. These two agencies funded breast cancer research at $802 million in 2014. Prostate cancer research received $334 million.
2. Breast cancer is expected to be found in 234,190 men and women in 2015. (That’s right! Men can get breast cancer, too!) During 2015, 40,730 people are expected to die from breast cancer. That’s too many, for sure, but basically, if you get breast cancer, you have very good odds of surviving at least five years. These odds have increased exponentially over the past few years as more and more attention has been given to the disease.
A whopping 29% of all cancers diagnosed will be breast cancer. About 15% of all cancer deaths result from breast cancer.
3. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men. It nearly seems like every man is going to be diagnosed with it if they live to be old enough. I have gotten so cavalier about it … “oh! prostate cancer. minor inconvenience. treat it. be done.” I wasn’t quite so sure of myself when one of our very best friends died from it only months after diagnosis. (I think he waited REALLY long before seeking treatment and it had metastasized throughout his body.)
So, the facts for prostate cancer are: 220,800 men are expected to be diagnosed with prostate cancer during 2015. Prostate cancer will account for 9% of all cancer-related deaths this year.
4. And then there’s lung cancer. Research funding from the two major federal agencies for this disease during 2014 was a whopping $265.6 million. Let’s remember. Breast cancer got $802 million and prostate got $334 million. Hello????
During 2015, it is estimated that 115,610 men and 105,590 women (total of 221,200) will be diagnosed with lung cancer. Most of these diagnoses will be late stage because lung cancer typically doesn’t make itself known until it has metastasized. It is somewhat treatable if found in early stages, but in late stages, the prognosis is downright bad.
Lung cancer is expected to claim the lives of 86,380 men (that’s 28% of all cancer deaths) and 71,660 women (26% of all cancer deaths) for a total of 158,040 people succumbing to lung cancer in 2015. An awful lot of families are losing their children, their moms and dads, and/or their grandparents to this insidious disease.
So, the likelihood that you’ll get breast cancer if you are a woman or prostate cancer if you are a man is somewhat greater than that you’ll get lung cancer. Pray that you get one of these cancers and not lung cancer. Because, if you get breast cancer, you have an 89% chance of surviving at least five years. Prostate cancer has even better odds. Over 99% of prostate cancer survivors will still be living life in five years.
But, if you are one of the unlucky ones who gets the lung cancer diagnosis, you have much worse odds. Let’s just take a quote right out of Cancer Facts and Figures 2015, a publication of the American Cancer Society:
The 1- and 5-year relative survival rates for lung cancer are 44% and 17%, respectively. Only 15% of lung cancers are diagnosed at a localized stage, for which the 5-year survival rate is 54%. More than half (57%) are diagnosed at a distant stage, for which the 1- and 5-year survival is 26% and 4%, respectively. The 5-year survival for small cell lung cancer (6%) is lower than that for non-small cell (21%).
So, does this make any sense to you? Because it sure does not make sense to me. It breaks my heart at the same time as it totally infuriates me.
Did you know that ONE in FIFTEEN will be diagnosed with lung cancer? Those are some pretty scary stats. Most of us have more than 15 people in our circle of family and friends. That means you are very likely to be directly affected by lung cancer. Either because a loved one is diagnosed or because you, yourself, get that news someday. When the word comes that you or your loved one has lung cancer, I wonder if you are going to wish more had been spent on lung cancer research? Because right now, the odds that you will live even one year after lung cancer is found in your body are very, very slim.
There is no stigma associated with getting breast cancer or prostate cancer or colon cancer or, I suppose, any other cancer. But, people, in general, seem to think that people who get lung cancer deserve it. After all, isn’t lung cancer the disease of smokers? People know they are testing fate when they pick up those cigarettes. So, let them just suffer the consequences of their actions, right?
Well … first of all … NO ONE and I do mean NO ONE deserves to get cancer of any kind. It is a fact of life, I guess, that most all of us will be impacted in some way by cancer if we live long enough, but none of us deserve to get it.
Cancer is not a fun disease to treat. People are sick, sick, sick. And often lose their hair. And all of their energy. And their memory.
And, it is certainly not a cheap disease to treat. One … ONE chemo treatment that I had cost over $34,000 and that was after a $22,000 grant was applied. I had those treatments every three weeks for six or seven months. And, that was just the cost of the drug. It didn’t include the doctor, blood tests, or facility usage. Cancer can wipe a family out financially in no time.
But, back to the stigma associated with lung cancer. Did you know that 60 to 65% of all lung cancer survivors (because you become a survivor from the moment you are diagnosed) either have never smoked or are former smokers? In my case, I had broken the addiction five years previously. My cancer is one that both smokers and non-smokers get so there is no clear evidence that my smoking caused my cancer. It is also the same kind of cancer as my dad died from back in the 1970s.
I attended a LUNGevity HOPE Summit in Washington, DC last week. I was amazed at the 150 survivors at that event. One girl was only 20. Her late-stage lung cancer was found (finally) when she was 19. Another beauty was 24. She lost part of a lung to lung cancer. Heart-breaking. Neither girl smoked. Both were gorgeous. Both were physically fit. Both girls had such a difficult time convincing their doctors that there was something more than asthma going on that they didn’t have their cancer discovered until it had metastasized.
Even doctors have an errorenous image in their heads as to what a lung cancer patient looks like. So, while they are lollygagging along treating symptoms and never even entertaining the idea that there might be something more serious going on, the cancer cells are spreading all over the body.
I met men and women who bicycle hundreds of miles a weekend. Coaches. Vegetarians. Physically fit, well-nourished, non-smokers. Lots of them. Lung cancer survivors, one and all. I don’t know that an average age of attendees was calculated, but I would guess it was around 45, maybe less.
All of this is to say that your mind’s image of a lung cancer patient is probably wrong. He or she is probably as physically fit as you are. And, s/he is probably not as old as you imagined. And definitely likely does not have tobacco stained fingers that are still shakily raising that nasty cigarette up to be smoked. He or she might be your sister or your brother, your mom or your dad, or your best friend. Or you.
The stigma that just won’t go away STINKS. Worse than cigarettes and we all know how bad they stink. And, the stigma is far more deadly than cigarettes.
It is causing doctors to misdiagnose or delay diagnosis until the odds of survival have decreased to almost nothing. It is causing the general public to think it is fine to underfund lung cancer research. It is causing a lot of people to die deaths they do not deserve.
The Good News
The news is BAD when we look at funding, awareness, and the number of people being diagnosed and dying from lung cancer. There really are not a l ot of optimistic things to say about those things.
But, in spite of the limited funding, our scientists and oncologists are making significant progress. This is an exciting time in the research field. They are on the brink of making some discoveries that could change some of those dire statistics.
At the HOPE Summit, we heard from some of the up and coming talents in the world of lung cancer research and they were inspiring. We have targeted therapy drugs coming. Immunotherapies. Perhaps even some chemotherapies that will be less toxic. I can’t imagine the inroads that would or could be made if only lung cancer was given a significant amount of funding like the other two major cancers get.
Tehre are a few groups out there working hard to raise awareness. As awareness is raised, perhaps more big corporations and well-known names will jump on the bandwagon. CVC has recently begun a campaign to raise money for lung cancer. It is the first corporation I know of to begin backing such a campaign. As awareness is raised, there will be more money for research. But, there will also be more lives saved because the image of the old smoker with lung cancer will be replaced by the young vital nonsmoker with lung cancer. People will begin to realize that they are not immune to it just because they never smoked. And then we will have real progress. It is a day I hope I live to see and I have developed a passion for doing what I can to help that day come sooner rather than later.
Won’t you help me?
I just came across another article that I want to share here. It was written by Jamie Gorenberg who wrote for “Desperate Housewives” after her mom, a person who quit smoking 40 years earlier, was diagnosed with lung cancer. I want to share it with anyone who happens to read my blog because she says, more eloquently than I, how it feels to have someone you love diagnosed with lung cancer.
I never bothered with flowers or anything when I worked – there wasn’t time. I was way too involved in agility and other activities to want to mess with flowers. I liked what other people had, but they were just too much work for me.
But, when I retired, I had more time. A lot more time. I needed something to fill my days with joy so I started filling pots with flowers. And, I found that those flowers brought me great joy. I would get up early and go sit out in the backyard and enjoy the gorgeous flowers and the serenity of it all. I had bird feeders spread around too. I also enjoy watching the birds and butterflies! Not the mosquitoes. I can definitely do without the mosquitoes.
Rosemary, marigolds, and lemon balm are all supposed to dissuade mosquitoes from making a home near you. Doesn’t work. I have tons of rosemary (I love it), pots of marigolds, and a thriving lemon balm and I also have giant-sized, hungry mosquitoes.
But, mosquitoes are not the topic of this posting. My flower of hope is.
The red verbena is my flower of hope. And there is a good reason for that.
Last year, I bought a beautiful hanging basket that had trailing petunias and verbena in it. I loved it, but it was not cooperative with me. It did not thrive like most of my plants do. When I left to go to New Mexico with my son, it gave up the ghost entirely.
I took the pot down and put it aside. It was a pretty pot so I thought I might replant it. I didn’t empty out the dead plants, but the pot was totally ignored. I did not water it or pay attention to it. Until, one day I looked at it, and lo and behold, there was a green plant and there were blooms!
I eventually pulled all of the dead plants out of the pot and started taking care of the little verbena that had come back from the dead. It flourished through the rest of the summer, but stayed pretty small.
Winter came. I took what was now a scrawny little plant with two little stalks of leaves up to the patio and diligently covered it along with other plants I tried to save every time the weather was going to be really cold. It didn’t look good, but it didn’t look dead, either!
When spring arrived, my little verbena was definitely not going to win a contest for most beautiful plant. But, it was alive. Two little stalks of alive! Hope! This feisty plant that refuses to die!
It has survived tremendous odds. It initially came back from the dead, surviving not having water in the hot Texas sun. It isn’t a perennial. It really shouldn’t have made it through the winter. But it did!
I have a vested interest in keeping it alive now. It is my hope flower. It keeps on keeping on even when the odds are stacked against it. It reminds me of me. And I want to keep it alive and thriving … and I want to stay alive and thriving too!