New Stats released by CDC

http://www.cancer.org/research/cancerfactsstatistics/survivor-facts-figures

The CDC just released its latest statistics for cancer survivors.  A survivor is anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer and is still alive. They may or may not still be undergoing treatments. They may have lived 20 years since diagnosis or 20 minutes.

The news in the report is actually quite good for many cancer survivors. It seems research has finally gotten a handle on lots of cancers and, while it is a huge inconvenience to be told you have cancer (understatement?!), your chances of surviving for at least five years are remarkably good.

For instance,  prostate cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer. Over 233,000 men were told they had prostate cancer in 2014. Fortunately,  99% of them will be alive in five years. Caution: 1% don’t make it. Don’t wait around! One of our best friends died of prostate cancer and it wasn’t pretty.

The next most common cancer is breast cancer. Pink anyone? (Is anyone else as tired of the pink campaign as i am??) In 2014, 232,670 men and women (but mostly women) learned they had breast cancer. Probably in large part because of all of the awareness campaigns and money thrown at research, 89% of breast cancer survivors will live five years or more.

The news goes south quickly from there. The third most common cancer is lung cancer. A whopping 224,210 people were told they have lung cancer in 2014. The majority won’t live a year. Only 17% will live to see that magical five year mark. And yet, funding for research into curing this cancer remains dismal.

There is that awful stigma that accompanies a lung cancer diagnosis. It is the smokers’ disease. And, i guess people who smoke or ever smoked deserve to die. And, i guess the thousands who never smoked but get lung cancer deserve it too. i presume this is true because there is so little support for finding cures. I am fighting to change that. So is LUNGevity (lungevity.org).

There are two cancers more deadly than lung cancer. Fortunately, they are not as prevalent. Only 6% of the 46,420 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will live 5 years. Liver cancer affected 33,190 in 2014. Only 16% of those people will be alive in 5 years.

These stats are dismal. It is up to us to fight for change. The more of us who lift up our voices, the better. Look at what awareness campaigns have done for breast cancer. It is time to spread the wealth. Other cancers are far more deadly and those diagnosed with them deserve to have hope and the chance to live for 5 or more years.

Please help! If you can’t contribute,  you can still communicate the need to Congress and contributors.

 

Angel doctor

Robert went for a physical yesterday. He saw the doctor who first discovered my cancer, Dr. Donna Casey. I went along, partly because i wanted to hear what was said about his health and partly because I wanted to see Dr Casey again. The last time i had seen her, i had just been told i needed to get into a clinical trial because traditional treatments were not working any longer. That was in July 2013.

I worried a bit about whether she would remember me or not. It had been over a year and a half since i had seen her. I count her my angel doctor,  but she sees many, many patients every week. There was not as much incentive for her to remember me as for me to remember her. I will never forget her! And will forever be in her debt!

Dr. Casey walked into the room, spoke to Robert, and then turned to introduce herself to me. When she saw who was sitting there, she broke into such a big smile. She was so excited. “I know YOU,” she exclaimed.

She started asking a volley of questions and then remembered that Robert was the patient this time, not me. She asked him if he cares if she spent just a few minutes catching up with me before getting to business with him.

While we discussed my treatments and how well they were going,  she had to reach for a tissue. She was so overwhelmed with joy that big alligator tears had formed in her eyes. She kept assuring us that she was crying happy tears.  Of that, there was no doubt.

I have always requested for her to receive copies of my CT scans, which happen every six weeks. I often wondered if she (or her office staff) considered them irrelevant. it is a lot of paperwork to keep up with for a patient you rarely see. I was shocked and humbled when she said she reads every report.  From her conversation,  it was apparent that she does!

All of this might not be so hard to believe if Dr. Casey had treated me for years prior to her discovering the knot on my collarbone that set the whole fight against stage IV cancer in motion. But, that isn’t the case at all. She discovered that knot on my very first visit.

Immediately,  she scheduled me for CT scans … that day. I heard from her just a few days later, with the information that there could be a problem and that her office was going to work with my insurance company to verify that they would pay for a PET scan.

I felt great. I went to see Dr. Casey at the very end of October 2012 primarily because i hadn’t been to the doctor for about 10 years for a physical. The main thing that drove me was weight gain. I kept packing on pounds and couldn’t lose them after going through  menopause and quitting smoking at about the same time. I assumed i had thyroid issues. I never, ever dreamt that i had cancer issues!

I had never heard of a PET scan so i immediately got on Google to see exactly what kind of scan it was. That was my first hint that i might have some kind of cancer. PET scans are used to diagnose cancer cell activity, heart disease, and dementia. I was confident i didn’t have problems with the latter two.

Dr. Casey’s office made the appointment for the PET scan as soon as approval for the test was received. She is amazing in her ability to get things done, so we didn’t have to wait long for the appointment.

By now, i surmised i had some kind of cancer. Since i had watched my dad die very quickly from lung cancer, i was praying it was any kind but lung cancer.

The only time we ever had to wait for what seemed like a lot of time to get a response from Dr. Casey was to hear what the results of the PET scan were. It took a week or so before we got the call that I had cancer … lung cancer. It was a call she hated to make, but she had already done everything for me. We had an appointment with an oncologist the very next morning.

Dr. Casey asked us to come by her office to report after the visit to the oncologist, Dr. Lalan Wilfong. He reported that the cancer was extensive. Because of its location, it was inoperable and radiation wasn’t an option either. Chemo was my only hope. He ordered a biopsy so we would know exactly what kind of lung cancer we were fighting.

By this point in time, we were nearing the Thanksgiving holidays. The date for the biopsy was set for after the holidays. Dr. Casey asked usmif we couldn’t have the biopsy done that day, rather than waiting. “Well, sure, but can we get in to have it done?” It was already nearing noon and, if memory serves me, it was Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

The amazing Dr. Casey pulled her magic strings and in just a few minutes,  we were headed to Presbyterian Hospital to get a biopsy. There was never a moment to sit and worry. She was about action and we were so grateful.

Because she made things happen so quickly, it was only barely over a month between the time i had my first appointment with Dr. Casey and when i was in the chemo room getting my first chemo treatment on December 5, 2012.

By May or June 2013, i had reached the end of the road for traditional chemo. The tumors responded as long as the poison was infused into my veins. But, as soon as treatments ended, the tumors took off again. Dr. Wilfong told us that there was another chemo drug we could try , but he wasn’t optimistic about it. It didn’t work as well and it made patients sicker than the previous drugs i had received.  The idea didn’t appeal to me at all.

He recommended that i consider getting into a clinical trial at the Mary Crowley  Center. I had never heard of that organization, but was willing to see what it offered. However,  i was really hoping to go to UTSW. I had heard good things about them.

When Mary Crowley was not at all responsive, we went back to see my angel doctor, Dr. Casey. We told her what was going on (or not) with Mary Crowley and asked what she thought about us going to UTSW. In minutes, she had called Dr. David Gerber and set us up an appointment.

The rest is history. I signed up to participate in an immunotherapy trial. My first treatment was in July 2013. The results have been awesome. I am the only patient still on the trial, at least at UTSW, but it is working great for me. My tumors have sat stable since i started the trial. Sometimes,  the radiologist classifies them as scars, though Dr Gerber scoffs at that. He said there’s no way to tell from a CT scan.

As long as they sit dormant,  i am okay with them being there. I wish they would go away entirely,  but this is the next best thing!

And, for all of this, i owe Dr. Donna Casey. She is my angel, if ever there was one!

how will you be remembered?

This was posted to WhatNext.com.  i may decide to answer some or all of the questions, possibly  here on my blog. In the meantime,  i want the questions here where i can them again!
How will you be remembered?
I shared with some of you a list of questions my granddaughter emailed to me. You may want to consider answering some of them for your family: 
1. How did your parents meet? 
2. What has been your favorite thing about being a daughter, sister, wife, mother, and grandmother? What was your least favorite thing? 
3. What are you most proud of? 
4. Do you have any regrets? 
5. What are you most scared of? 
6. What’s your favorite song and movie? 
7. What advice do you have for me about life in general? 
8. Who is someone in heaven you wish you could have lunch with? 
9. What’s the most romantic thing papa ever did for you? 
10. What was the hardest thing about marriage? 
11. What do you think of when you see a sunset or the ocean? 
12. Do you ever miss living in Michigan? 
13. What’s your favorite place that you traveled to? 
14. What is your best memory from your childhood? 
15. What’s your greatest wish? 
16. What’s your favorite quote and why? 
17. Who is your favorite person and why?

Living with Lung Cancer

I will never forget learning i had lung cancer or the reaction of my primary care doctor. She felt just horrible that she discovered i had stage IV lung cancer on my very first visit to see her. I have the complete opposite reaction. I praise God for her every day. I would be dead today if she had not noticed that tiny knot on my collarbone.

Dr. Casey held our hands tightly through those early days of battling the cancer. She requested that we come to report to her after every visit with the oncologist. I remember like yesterday sitting in her office and relaying what Dr Wilfong, my first oncologist, had told us. She asked if Robert and/or I needed sleeping pills or anti-depressants and was amazed when we said no. Not then, not ever have we felt the need for drugs to help us face the diagnosis.

From the beginning, we have accepted the diagnosis, gone for treatments,  and continued on with life. Thankfully, my general good health has allowed us to live pretty normal lives most of the time.

I was at my oncologist’s office yesterday. With every treatment,  i have blood tests, a doctor’s visit, and the immunotherapy infusion. I have had a cough since around Thanksgiving which is driving Robert and me crazy. It was preceded by an unexplained (despite a multitude of tests) fever. Anyway, Dr Gerber was wanting to know how significant the cough is and how affected by it I am.

I told him it didn’t prevent my playing agility all of last weekend. He wasn’t quite sure what i was talking about so i showed him the following videos.

 

My dogs and i love the sport of agility so much! I am sure it is apparent from the videos. How many Stage IV lung cancer patients are out running agility courses? I don’t know, but i am beyond thankful that i am able.

Additionally, the dogs and i meet my friend Linda Lelak nearly every day and walk from 2 to 3 miles. The dogs love it and it is good for us! I am grateful for Linda and her Louie. If not for meeting them every day, i probably wouldn’t make myself walk on a regular basis.

I meet my friend Anna every week for lunch and, if there’s anything worth watching, a movie. I love having friends and the time to get together! I spent nearly my whole life so involved with working that i didn’t take time for friends.

The whole purpose of this post is to point out that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean that you have to quit living. I know through a support network that i particpate on that too many people become captives to their disease and their fears of germs.

If i let it make me a prisoner, then i might as well just give up and let it take its course. I have cancer. Cancer doesn’t have me.

Two-Year Anniversary

Two years ago, accompanied by my mom and my husband, I arrived at Texas Oncology at Presbyterian Hospital  (currently of ebola fame) to begin chemo treatments. I wore my agility shirt that said, “It’s about the journey. ” I had no idea what to expect, but one thing I did know was that I was beginning the journey of and for my life.

I will be honest. I didn’t expect to live a year, much less two years from the start of chemo. I watched my dad die in 6 months after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Stats said I wasn’t likely to live. I planned to face the end of my life with laughter, humor, dignity … but I fully expected to lose the battle within a year of diagnosis.

Instead, Praise God!, today, two years after my first chemo treatment, my Sheltie Barney and I were at agility lessons, preparing to compete at the December  Run as One trial in Terrell on December 13-14. Could life be any better?

Blessings

You have to look for your blessings where you can … and I know you guys will think I am weird, but this lung cancer made it possible for me to retire. I can’t even tell you how wonderful it is not to have to go to work any longer. I have had to work one or two jobs since I turned 20. I am loving every second of not having to do that any longer!

Another HUGE blessing is that the treatment I am on (clinical trial for immunotherapy drug) is wonderful. Here I am … Stage IV non-small-cell lung cancer patient … nearly 1-1/2 years after diagnosis … still doing fantastic!!! The tumors are still there, but they are just sitting in the same spot as they were when we discovered them. They haven’t grown or multiplied or spread. Hallelujah and Praise God!

The immunotherapy is the best thing since sliced bread. It doesn’t make you sick or tired and before I started getting it I was sick and tired of being sick and tired!! The hardest part of getting it is spending a long half day at the hospital getting an infusion every two weeks. Lucky me and lucky cancer patients everywhere … the company is or will soon be seeking FDA approval. From what I know, none of the patients who are participating at the clinic where I go has had terribly adverse side effects and I think everyone is doing quite well in the fight against their cancer.

I am so glad that I found UT Southwestern. Some people told me that they felt like it was a huge and cold institution that didn’t care about patients except as numbers in science experiments. Well, that’s far from true. The girls behind the desk know you, the aides who take you from place to place know you, the nurses, physician’s assistants, researchers, and doctors all know you as a person. I always feel like I am seeing friends when I go. Which is a good thing since treatments occur every two weeks.

My life is so full. Every single day is packed with things that I love to do. In the past, my days were full, but they were full of work-type activities. I worked at my 8-5 job and then I came home and took care of SchoolGrants, the business that God blessed me with since 1999. I let it go a couple of years ago and that was quite a liberating feeling! It still is. It was my passion for a long, long time but I burned myself completely out.

Once you receive a cancer diagnosis, I don’t think the fact that you have cancer (or had cancer if you are fortunate enough to beat it) ever leaves your mind. I never go through a day that I do not remember quite well that I have cancer. It impacts my thought processes. On the other hand, some days I can’t believe the diagnosis is correct. How can I be so sick when I’m so healthy??!!!

Which brings to mind more praises! Week after week, month after month, my blood tests come back perfect. We do thorough blood analyses before every single treatment and every time, my tests are perfect. My doctor is amazed. He said that less than 1% of cancer patients are as fortunate. It isn’t just my blood tests that come back perfect, so do my blood pressure, oxygen, and temperature readings! How can I not call myself lucky? LUCKY!! or, more appropriately, BLESSED. Totally.

Here’s another way I am blessed. Insurance. Oh my gosh. Fighting cancer is expensive. Ridiculously so. What do people who don’t have insurance do? I really don’t know. I’m glad I don’t have to find out.

I have been on some cancer sites lately that are sort of like support groups or something. I have never felt the need for a support group but I like to go to these online groups and offer support to those just learning they have cancer. I want them to know that a horrible diagnosis that scares the living daylights out of you may truly not be the end of the world at all.

Those people who get the diagnosis and decide right away that they’ll just go with palliative care distress me. No one thought I had a lot of time left but I was determined to make the best of what time I did have. My life has slowly evolved to something that it wasn’t when I was diagnosed. For instance, I do not participate in all of the same events, like agility training and competing, that I was consumed with prior to learning I was battling lung cancer. But my life is full. Every single minute of it! I am as happy as can be. Each day ends with me thinking that I needed more hours to get everything done that I wanted to get done that day. Amazing.

Those who just give up are missing out on so much. None of us have tomorrow promised to us, so we should all appreciate each and every hour that we are given. I just wish that those who choose not to fight their cancer would reconsider. At least I wish they would try to get into a test study so that the doctors can research the effects of more treatments. It might or might not help them but it surely might help someone else down the road. I’ve never been a hand-wringer. I don’t guess I understand  those who are.

Well, I planned to post a lot of pictures here and discuss some of my recent activities, but I’m really beat. Today was treatment day and it was a long day. I’ll come back before too long and post some lovely pictures I’ve had the opportunity to capture over the last few weeks and months.

Until then, take care and thank God for another day!

I’ll leave you with two of my most favorite blessings:

My lovely Cotton. She’s doing some birdwatching here. I’ll be posting pictures from our bird watching in the near future.

Barney. My heart and soul. 

From Where I Sit

I am thinking of starting a new blog called “From Where I Sit.” I planned to post pictures and thoughts that  occur “from where I sit.” Somehow, some of what I do on  a day to day basis didn’t seem like it fit on a blog about Facing Lung Cancer.

But then I thought … every single day of my journey is part of facing lung cancer. So maybe there is really no need for a separate blog at all. The whole point is that most days have nothing to do with lung cancer and everything to do with living. What a waste it would be to dwell on the cancer instead of seeing all of the beauty that surrounds us.

So, for now, I think “From Where I Sit” is just going to stay right here as part of Facing Lung Cancer. The reason I started the blog in the beginning was to help people in the future who receive a similar diagnosis. I wanted to let them see what the journey was all about. I planned to chronicle what it was like to be fighting cancer.

I wanted everyone to know what it was like to get chemo. To be deathly ill from the poisons we voluntarily drip into our bodies. To be so tired that walking to the refrigerator is a major accomplishment. Since it was all new to me as well, I just planned to take others along with me as we navigated a new world. The end goal was to make it less scary for those who follow me with their own diagnoses.

Well, surprise, surprise!!! It is about so much more than being sick. That, in fact, is just a small part of what facing lung cancer is all about. In fact, facing lung cancer is about making the most of every single solitary day. We don’t know when we’ll draw our last breath. None of us do. So we all ought to be enjoying the time we have here on this earth. And not sweating the small stuff.

So, for tonight, I will leave you with some pictures that I find inspirational in their own way. The majesty of the sky and the trees … and a shot of the moon!

Last night was the first in a series of 4 times that we had a blood red moon. I practiced getting a shot of the moon before the event last night.

I stayed up to watch the eclipse. And the moon was gorgeous. Unfortunately, my photography skills were less than adequate. I got a picture (or 10) that I will share, but they are not good. I learned that I have a lot to learn!

I thought the trees that are just budding out looked awesome against the blue sky filled with fluffy white clouds.

 

Depending on where you looked in the sky, there were either big, white, fluffy clouds or stormy clouds.
For me, gazing at this picture brings a peacefulness. I hope it affects you similarly.
Here, I was experimenting to see if I could even get a shot of the moon that wasn’t just a big blur. Success!

 

The eclipse has begun!!

 

Nearly half of the moon is covered. Where is the red?

 

Only a sliver of the moon hasn’t been eclipsed.

 

Wait???? I’m seeing a beautiful red ball in the sky and my camera is seeing this? Really???

 

Well … it is after the fact … but at least I finally “found” the red moon on my camera! The quality of the picture (and all of the rest of the pictures I got of the red moon) leaves much to be desired, unfortunately.

 

While the picture quality is poor, the beauty of what I saw should be apparent.

 

 

From where I sit, the world and the heavens are beautiful (even when the quality of the photography is not)! I hope the same is true from where you sit!

Happy Birthday, Barney Boy!

Four years ago today, my little Sheltie made his way into this world. A little less than seven weeks later, he came home to live with Robert, Cotton, and me. He is my heart and soul!

 

 

Cotton was a big white fluffy puppy – just gorgeous. Don’t shoot me, but I personally don’t think Sheltie pups are some of the cutest around. They are a breed, in my own opinion, that are much more gorgeous after they become adults. All pups are cute, but Barney and other Shelties are not beautiful as puppies. In my opinion!

My mother came over shortly after I got Barney. By that time, his little looks had grown on me and I was thinking he was cuter than I did initially. His sweet, silly personality made you love and adore him and see a different puppy.

Mom, on the other hand, rounded the corner and saw him for the first time. She immediately declared that he was the ugliest little puppy she believed she’d ever seen. Poor little Barney! She was expecting a big fluffy ball of fur like Cotton, an American Eskimo Dog, was.

I saw a picture of Barney from his puppy days on Facebook this morning. I hope I can find it to post here because the poor boy was really gangly! The angle of the camera doesn’t help! Little Man looks like he’s all head and only a little bitty body! I just want to grab that little puppy up and give him a big hug now!!! A lot of my friends have new pups this year. Seeing them hasn’t really made me want a puppy all that badly. Seeing pictures of my own Barney Boy from a few years back, though, is really giving me puppy fever!!! And lots of big, big smiles!

Barney has been through so much with me. I had only had him for three weeks when we learned that our three grandkids, aged 10 months, 3 years, and 8 years at that time, were coming to live with us. CPS had removed them from their home and, at least at first, it seemed Robert and I were going to become parents again until the kids were full grown. I only had one child when I was young … getting three all of a sudden and under such circumstances was traumatic, to say the least. Poor little Barney didn’t get nearly as much attention as he would have under different conditions.

Well, that’s not entirely true. He got attention from the kids and from me … but it was different attention than I envisioned when I got him. The good news is that he loves kids, especially the three grandsons, unequivocally. I’m sure that growing up with the kids influenced that love greatly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But we missed some early training opportunities that I see my friends offer to their young pups. I’m not sure it really stunted him much though. He’s well-behaved and a fine little agility dog.

The kids lived with us for 5-1/2 months before the judge allowed them to go back home. So much of my time and effort was focused on taking care of them that I feel like I missed Barney’s puppyhood. I barely remember it. Those months are a daze in so many ways!

As soon as the kids got to go back home, Barney and I threw ourselves into training. Little Man was fabulous. If you asked it of him, he gave it. He still does. What a dog!

We started training every chance we got. We went out to the DAWG (Dallas Agility Working Group) field twice a week and one time a week, Barney was in pre-agility and then beginner agility classes. We both love agility and spending the time together. Cotton was along for the DAWG training. She loves agility, too. Sometimes. When it suits her!

As soon as he turned 18 months, Barney started competing in several different agility venues: USDAA, ASCA, and NADAC. We were gone nearly every weekend and, no matter the venue, the little guy turned in a stunning performance. He qualified in nearly every run he ran. We had so much fun. So.Much.Fun! We added AKC to our list of venues because there were a few weekends when we couldn’t compete in our favored venues. Addicted to agility! That was me, for sure. And Barney loved every minute of it, too!

 

 

 

Then, in October 2012, the bottom fell out of my world. Forget the fact that I was competing in agility every weekend and going to class, by then, four times a week. Forget that I was happier and in better shape than I can remember being (other than being slightly overweight from having quit smoking and going through menopause without the benefits of hormone treatments). Cancer didn’t care.

Barney, Cotton and I continued to go to class and trials while I underwent all sorts of tests and we waited to hear the final diagnosis. We even continued to go to class and trials after the word came that I had Stage IV lung cancer. But, once I started chemo, all bets were off.

I didn’t have the stamina to go to class at night after working all day even when I wasn’t sick, deathly sick, from the chemo treatments. If I wasn’t nauseous, I was still so exhausted that asking my legs to carry me very short distances (like from the 15 feet or so from the couch to the refrigerator) was an accomplishment. As badly as I wanted to keep playing, it was physically and mentally impossible.

Well, nearly. Ed Scharringhausen holds Run As One NADAC agility trials in this area once a month except during the hottest months of the summer. He and his other half, Cathy, are as supportive of me and the challenges I face with this disease as any two people I know have been. Despite not going to class, Barney and I have managed to go, at least for a few hours, to quite a few Run as One trials since I was diagnosed with cancer. And little Barney just keeps on keeping on! We’ve reached a point on one of the events, Chances, where the dog has to work a great distance from you, that we are not going to qualify without more training. Otherwise, though, Barney is at least as likely to earn a qualifying score as not. He gives his all each and every time we step to the line.

But, Barney is more, so much more, than just my little agility teammate. I’ve posted this picture a time or two before, but in my mind’s eye, it is how I see my little boy much of the time. I was so sick after one of my first chemo treatments. My boy was right there with me … he has never before or since been so willing to stay with me (on me) for so long as he was during the time that I was the absolute sickest … such a comforter!!!

I dearly love my Cotton Girl. One of these days, I’ll give her a post! To go on and on about Barney doesn’t diminish how much I adore Cotton, but she’s a totally different dog than Barney. Barney is my caregiver and my little shadow. My sensitive, loving little man. I am, every single solitary day, so very grateful that Mr. Barney was brought into this world on February 7, 2010 and that he came home with me a few weeks later!

Happy birthday, Little Man!!! I hope we get to share many, many, MANY more together!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is World Cancer Day

Did you see the Super Bowl Commercial that Chevrolet ran? They will donate $1 to the American Cancer Society for every person who goes purple on Facebook or Twitter today. Do it, please!!! It will only take a moment of your time and your dollar combined with those of thousands of others can really make a difference. http://www.chevrolet.com/purple-roads-world-cancer-day.html

The Chevy commercial really touched me. This woman is facing a cancer diagnosis … and her husband is sharing in the pain. There are lots of diagnoses that would be heartbreaking to receive. The one I identify with is cancer. I think I will never forget the moment I learned I had lung cancer.

I was fairly certain by that point that I had cancer, though no one but me had ever uttered such a word in connection with the tests I was having. I was so hopeful that it would be nearly any kind of cancer but lung cancer. My dad died of lung cancer only six months of being diagnosed, despite a valiant effort to fight it. The stats for surviving lung cancer are just not good.

Of course, anyone who knows me or who follows this blog knows I didn’t get my wish granted. I not only had lung cancer, I had Stage IV lung cancer that was inoperable. Radiation also wasn’t an option. Chemotherapy was the only hope I was given. And the doctor wasn’t all that confident it would prolong my life appreciably.

How do you describe the emotions you go through when you learn that your life may be nearly over? Just when life was kind of coming together. I was so involved. I had so many more friends and activities to pursue than I had for most of my adult life. I was having fun … no … F-U-N!!! Literally, the time of my life!

Cancer wasn’t in the plans. At all. I had quit smoking five or six years previously. I was physically active. I ate decent. Cancer was for someone else, not me.

Things move quickly after you’re diagnosed with cancer. You face it bravely, but you’re still scared. And once you get that diagnosis, the fact that you have cancer sort of defines who you are from then on. Or, that’s the case with me. It never leaves the forefront of my mind that I have cancer. I don’t mean to say that it especially limits what I do because I try hard to make sure that isn’t the case, but I still never really forget that I am in the fight of my life against a mighty foe. And I never forget that God is Good and He is Powerful. And by His grace, I’m still here and I still feel good and I am still able to do a whole lot of what I was able to do prior to that terrible day that I learned I had lung cancer.

When I watch the commercial, I imagine that the woman has learned recently that she has cancer. Maybe they are on their way to her first treatment or to tell her parents or kids that she’s received a deadly diagnosis. So many difficult moments accompany the news that you have become a cancer statistic. You have to figure out the new road you’re going to walk whether you want to or not … and you wonder just exactly what it is going to entail. Talk about fear of the unknown!!

Is it going to hurt? Will I be deathly ill for my remaining days on this earth? What’s going to happen to my family, to my dogs? Will my friends disappear? Will people be too uncomfortable to be around me? Will I be too uncomfortable to be around them? Will I lose my hair? Will I become a skeleton? What’s it going to be like to face a deadly opponent? What does chemo feel like?

Here are some answers to those questions:

  1. Lung cancer doesn’t hurt. That’s a problem with it. You have no clue you have it until it is so far gone that your chances of survival are greatly diminished.
  2. Some of your friends do fall by the wayside, but others are right there for you every step of the way. You mourn the ones you “lost” and celebrate the ones who are strong enough and care enough to stick around.
  3. I was lucky! My hair got thinner, but I didn’t lose it. I purchased a wig and hats and all of the rest but by God’s grace, I didn’t have to use them. I’m really happy I didn’t lose my hair – that would have been difficult. But it surely wouldn’t have been the end of the world. I see some women who wear their bald heads with such pride … my heart just swells with love when I see it.
  4. I surely didn’t become a skeleton. It never has seemed fair that I can go through chemo treatment after chemo treatment and still be bigger than ever before. But, I’d rather be a little chubby than way too thin. I don’t look sick and I don’t feel sick.
  5. Chemo doesn’t hurt or burn or anything. It is boring … the first treatments I got took 3-4 hours to administer. The ones I get now drip for an hour. Ho-hum. The after-effects can be awful though. I can’t describe the fatigue or the nausea that accompanied my first chemo treatments. I think you have to experience them to understand them. I’ve tried to face this battle with good humor, but I have to say that I was starting to get quite depressed when I was on the first two courses of treatment. You would have chemo, be sick-sick-sick, and finally start to feel better just about the same time as it was time to go again for another treatment.

Every single day when I wake up, I praise God that I’m still here! I still feel good. I can still enjoy the activities I did before I was diagnosed with cancer.

Below is a video that was shot yesterday of my Sheltie, Barney, and I trying our luck at a NADAC Chances run. We did not earn a qualifying score (LOL, to say the least!!!), but we WERE successful! We were outside together with friends and we had a ton of fun. A far cry from the video above where the woman is looking out the window with so many fears and so much sadness.

 

I am fully aware that any day my cancer may take off and kill me quickly. I think that knowledge makes me enjoy each and every day far more than I would if my body hadn’t been invaded by “evil cells.” I try hard not to sweat the small stuff … or even the big stuff.
On the other hand, I tend NOT to make plans for too far into the future. There’s a Gaither concert over the Memorial Day weekend that I would love to attend in Tennessee but I have been hesitant to get tickets … it is a lot of money to spend if it turns out I am no longer able to make a trip like that.
Here’s the thing, though. Tomorrow is not promised to any of us. Car wrecks, heart attacks, the flu … none of us know what tomorrow holds for us. A cancer diagnosis might make that fact a little more real, but ALL of us should live life as if tomorrow may not come. Be happy. Be strong. Live!

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