A year ago, my medical oncologist walked into the office and informed me that he was pulling me out of the trial that I had been in for four years. I was dumbfounded and devastated. I was set to receive Opdivo Infusion #99 that day and, in my mind, was already celebrating my 100th treatment. Milestones notwithstanding, my cancer was growing and changes had to be made.
It was just a couple of months ago that I attended a seminar at our local Cancer Support Communities clubhouse on essential oils. Now, I have heard about essential oils for years. I’ve used a few – lavender to make my laundry smell good and peppermint to try to keep mice and ants away. But, that was really about the extent of my knowledge. That all changed after I took part in the class. I don’t know what clicked with me, but something did and suddenly I am knee-deep into learning all about essential oils.
Newly diagnosed patients often feel like they are on a raft in the middle of the ocean without a paddle, surrounded by sharks. There are so many questions when hit with an unexpected diagnosis like lung cancer.
Below are a few of my top suggestions for the newly diagnosed and even for those of us who have been on this journey for some time.
Go ahead…eat the sugar (in moderation)
One that you’ll hear most often is that you have to give up sugar when you get cancer. “Sugar feeds cancer,” they say. Well, it is true that all of our cells, including cancer cells, need and use sugar (glucose) for energy. However, just not eating sugar does not deprive your body of the blood sugar it requires to survive.
I recently saw someone ask how important it is to have a connection with their surgeon. It got me to thinking about it. My thoughts were a little different than those of most respondents. I’m interested to hear what you guys think.
It depends on the patient
My response was, basically, “It depends.” I think it depends on your personality and your needs as a patient and I also think it matters how long the relationship is likely to be.
Are you ready for it? October will be here before we know it. You know what that means. Everything will be covered in pink.
A closer look at the statistics
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), breast cancer killed slightly more than 51,000 people, mostly women, in 2015¹. If one of those who died was your mom, sister, daughter or best friend, it hurt a lot to lose them. Fortunately, the American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that the five-year survival rate for women diagnosed with breast cancer is 90%.²
My six-year cancerversary is upon us so I guess it has me thinking about the journey I’ve been on. I might have chemo brain that robs many of my memories, but I surely remember hearing the words, “You have cancer.”
Cancer … But What Kind?
While I already suspected that I was getting a cancer diagnosis because my primary care doctor (PCP) had ordered a PET scan, I didn’t know what kind of cancer. I was hoping against all hope that it was going to be thyroid cancer. After all, it was weight gain that had sent me to see her in the first place. It would make some sense that my thyroid had a malignancy.
While I waited for my diagnosis, I reasoned that we could just go in, take out the offending thyroid, prescribe some pills to replace the missing hormone, and all would be well. Cancer gone. Life restored. Carry on.
I hoped against all hope that I wasn’t going to hear that I had lung cancer. I had no reason to think that would be the case. I had quit smoking years before, I was more active than I’d ever been, I felt great. Really, the only problem I had was the unexplained and seemingly uncontrollable weight gain. Surely, I wasn’t going to be told I had lung cancer.
My husband and I had just pulled up into the parking lot of an Asian barbeque restaurant when my PCP called me to finally tell me the results of the PET scan. My husband and I had been waiting not so patiently to learn the results of the scan I had undergone about a week earlier. So, I was happy … and scared … when my doctor’s name showed up on the caller ID.
The call didn’t last very long. My doctor told me that I had lung cancer. My heart sank like a ton of bricks. I had watched my dad die of lung cancer back in the 1970s. I knew enough to realize this was not a diagnosis anyone wants to hear. There was a (very) tiny sense of relief when she told me it was non-small cell lung cancer. I’d read that small cell was even more difficult to treat than non-small cell.
My husband was sitting in the driver’s seat of his truck, looking at me with questions in his eyes. Whatever my diagnosis was, it would affect many more lives than just mine, especially his. I wrote “lung cancer” on a scrap of paper and showed it to him.
I remember my doctor telling me that she’d set me up with an appointment the following day to see an oncologist. I was so grateful that (1) she had handled finding me a cancer doctor and (2) that I wasn’t going to have to wait except overnight to go see him.
Keeping Up Appearances
After I hung up, my husband and I sat in his truck and discussed the call for a couple of minutes. I shed a few tears. Then, we went inside to eat so that I could get back to work. I was really happy the call had come while I was away from the office. Processing the news away from prying eyes was definitely easier.
I remember sitting at that small table in the crowded restaurant, looking around, and wondering what secrets the other patrons had that no one else knew. Outwardly, no one would suspect that I had just taken a call that shattered my world. It was surreal to be sitting there, eating a meal as if we had not a care in the world.
And, So It Began…
And, so began the journey that has taken me to places I would have never guessed I would go. What an adventure it has been.
What’s your story? Will you share it with us?
Have you heard about the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR)? It is a foundation that is dedicated to exploring the role diet and exercise have on cancer. They believe that as much as 40% of cancer in the United States can be prevented. The foundation also believes that “every individual has the power to reduce his or her cancer risk.”1
I am a bit cynical about whether we can prevent nearly half of all cases of cancer in the United States simply by controlling our diets and exercise, but that’s just me. The AICR does include weight control and smoking among the risk factors that are under our control but correctly notes that many thousands of smokers never develop lung cancer and that many Americans who are overweight also do not develop cancer.
The exact percentage of cancers that might be preventable notwithstanding, it makes sense to pay attention to diet and exercise while we are fighting the disease. Lifestyle definitely affects how well we are able to boost our immune systems and, perhaps, counteract some of the side effects of treatment.
While the report says that as much as 90% of lung cancer cases among men and 89% of cases among women throughout the world have a direct relationship with smoking, it includes two other potential causes:
- drinking water that contains arsenic and
- taking high-dose beta-carotene supplements if you smoke or have ever smoked.
In addition, researchers believe processed meats, red meat, and alcoholic drinks may increase our chances of developing lung cancer. I can easily give up most processed meats (you bacon lovers, don’t forget it is considered processed meat) and alcoholic beverages, but I do love to eat red meat occasionally. I thought that pork was considered a “white” meat, but I heard recently that it is also considered red meat.
Fortunately for those like me who haven’t given up their red meats, AICR does state in its latest report, “The evidence suggesting that consumption of red meat increases the risk of lung cancer is limited.”2 I’m going to go with that! Please note that the same report also says, “The evidence suggesting that consumption of alcoholic drinks increases the risk of lung cancer is limited.”2
If you are interested, you can download a free, 71-page PDF document from AICR called, “Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Lung Cancer.” The document is part of the Continuous Update Project (CUP) of the World Cancer Research Fund’s ongoing program to analyze cancer prevention and survival research and was updated in 2018.
1American Institute for Cancer Research. “About American Institute for Cancer Research.” http://www.aicr.org/about/about_cancer_research.html. Accessed 9/30/2018.
2World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project Expert Report 2018. Diet, nutrition, physical activity and lung cancer. Available at dietandcancerreport.org. Page 39. Accessed 9/30/2018.
You know, I have such a short memory that it occurs to me that I should be writing down my experiences as they occur. That way, I can remember this trip of a lifetime!
It all started when my friend Karen, also a lung cancer survivor, wrote on one of her medical updates that she was hoping to go to Israel early next year (2019). I replied to her message, saying I was looking forward to living vicariously through her pictures. (She is a great tour guide, even if you are not along with her! She posts pictures with lots of information accompanying them.)
My journey began when I got an email from Karen inviting me to actually join her for the trip. Upon reading the email, I yelled upstairs to my husband, “Hey! Do you care if I go to Israel?”
In a matter of moments, it was decided I could go! Wow! I never, ever dreamed I would ever go on a trip like this!! I am still not sure I believe it.
Oh Man! Where Do I Start?
Within just a few days, we had talked to our travel agency and paid the deposit. This is becoming real!
Since I have never been out of the country before, I have no passport. So, I called about getting an appointment so I could get that process started. Well. No. If you live in Texas, you need a special birth certificate … and that’s not the one I had, of course.
It takes up to a month to get one from the office in Austin, the only Vital Statistics office in Texas that has the birth certificate I need (long form). Okay. I have time.
But, the online ordering system crashes every time I try to place the order. I call their tech support. They can’t figure out what’s wrong. My case gets escalated.
I never heard back from Tech Support, but decided after a couple of days to try it and see if I could place the order. I was starting to get worried! Fortunately, even though Tech Support failed to inform me that they had corrected the problem (gee, thanks!), the problem was remedied and I was able to place the order.
I settled in to wait. God was on my side. I got my certificate in only a few weeks. Yes!!
Karen and I bought trip insurance. Since we never know when or if our cancer is going to return with a vengeance, we felt it was prudent to do so. She’d recently had a scan showing that her tumor is stable; I was waiting on mine. I had it last week.
I admit I was holding my breath a little. I didn’t have any reason to think it wouldn’t show that my tumors are stable, the same as they have been for the last five years, but I still can’t quite believe this trip is really going to happen. I keep thinking something is going to cause it not to work out.
I was gratified to learn that my scan shows all is still well. Tumors are stable, no growth, no new tumors. Yes!! I won’t have another scan until the week after we return from our trip, so even if there is growth or spreading between now and then (I have no reason to expect there will be except that I am still expecting something to cause me not to get to go) I won’t know it.
Bible Study at the Passport Office
I’m not quite sure why, but I was nervous about going to the Passport Office. I guess that makes no sense. Well, really, there’s no “guess” to it. It makes no sense. But, I was nervous all the same.
A nice man came in, took my picture, and looked over all of the information I brought (driver’s license, new birth certificate, application), and we started talking about the fact that I am 65 years old and have never been out of the country before. He asked where I was going.
“Israel,” I said. He looked at me, probably noted the cross I wear around my neck, and said, “Your life will never the be same.” When he talked about walking where Jesus did, I got chills up and down my arms!
I’m sure that the Post Office probably wouldn’t condone our visiting for 30 minutes about God’s goodness and His mighty power and about how powerful it is to go to the place where Jesus was born, taught, died, and rose again. But, I left almost floating on air! It was as good as any church service would have been. And, I am even more excited than ever to make the trip.
Now, I just have to wait about 3 weeks for that passport to arrive. Then, I’ll really feel like this trip is going to happen!!
Palliative care. Do you know what it is? If you don’t, then you are in the same boat as about 78% of people who answered a 2011 survey done by the American Cancer Society.2 In fact, only 8% of people said that they feel knowledgeable or very knowledgeable about what palliative care is. That’s a shame because palliative care can make your life a whole lot better if you are experiencing symptoms from your cancer or cancer treatment that are not being addressed by oncology.