Cancer is nothing when you have hope!! This site is all about living … and living well … with late-stage cancer. I hope you will journey along with me through the ups and downs of living with lung cancer.
I am an animal lover. I always have been. When I was a little girl, my mother would let us have cats but not dogs. I remember frequently hugging a stuffed poodle and praying that God would turn it into a real dog.
As soon as I was on my own, I got a dog or two or three! I’ve had at least one my entire adult life. Usually, I have had two or more. They complete me. I suspect many of you know exactly what I mean. …More…
I am sitting here staring at a blank sheet of paper, wondering what I have to say to you that will be worth your time reading it. I am no scientist. With the advent of chemo brain, I don’t even really enjoy reading and researching like I once did. So I have no great wisdom to impart.
What I do have to pass along is hope. Such a little word but one that has the ability to change your life. Hope crowds out anxiety and pushes away fear. It fills you with peace and can motivate you. ….More
Six years ago, on February 7th, my boy Barney was born. He came home to live with us on April 1, 2010. He has been a delight since the day he came into my life.
Such a cute little fellow!! Well, I thought so, but not everyone did. My mom came over shortly after I got him. Her first words were something like, “That’s the ugliest little dog I think I have ever seen.” You decide …
You’re a little fellow … will you be staying?
Hi Fluffy! Can we be friends?
Can I play with you, Cotton?
He may not have been the most adorable puppy, but he had so much personality! He has always made me laugh.
I fretted over a name for my puppy. I leaned toward Magic. It is a name that would have been appropriate in so many ways – he’s been magical for me. But, my husband wasn’t impressed with that name.
Is this a nice “sit?”
Finally, a friend came by and started listing a bunch of name possibilities. When she hit on “Barney,” a light came on. My mind went to Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith show … and my gangly, funny little puppy seemed like a perfect match to that name. So, he became Barney.
This dog has been a perfect match to me. He’s a happy soul. If we’re lying on the couch, he’s right there with me, happy just to be near. If we’re going for a walk, he’s ready and excited to go. And, if we walk onto the agility field, my little man is an anxious performer.
Just three weeks after I brought him home, our grandchildren came to live with us for several months. On top of my regular responsibilities, I now had a 10-month old, a 3-year-old, and a 7-year-old to raise … and a little puppy to try to train… When I wasn’t at work… Or cooking. Or cleaning…
He was as happy as could be to have Fluffy the cat, Cotton (his temperamental sister), and the three human children to play with. To this day, he loves it when the children come to visit. But, he didn’t get nearly as much attention and training as he would have or that I planned during his earliest months.
Some dogs might have suffered from that lack of training, but not my Barney. When he was finally able to begin pre-agility classes (after the children returned home), he was a super star.
He is such a stable boy. Rain, thunder and lightning don’t bother him in the least. I can think of little that bothers him, except sharing me with any animal other than his sister.
He was nearly three when I was diagnosed with cancer. We were on a roll in agility when I learned I was sick. This little boy was doing amazing things – he’s always been such a steady little partner. The only question I really had for my oncologist after learning I was sick was whether I could continue running agility with my Barney.
We had to quit agility classes because I was either too sick or too exhausted to go. But, we continued to try to go to trials as we could. And, he never let me down.
Looking back at the spreadsheet where I keep track of our trial experiences, there are only one or two times when I felt like we just didn’t connect as a team. For the most part, he gave his all.
Here are some of his latest runs. I am so proud of where he is. Where we are as a team.
Exercise is said to be good for chemo brain and for fighting cancer. Learning the courses stretches my mind. I love being around all of my friends and their dogs. It brings me great joy. I would be willing to bet that my agility addiction has helped keep me healthy.
But, while agility plays a big part in my life and the lives of my dogs, it isn’t everything! Really! It isn’t!
My heart just swells when my boy lays his head on my legs when we’re sitting on the couch or when he gets on the back of the couch and hangs his leg over so that it touches me or lays on my chest and sleeps with me there.
My favorite memory of all of my boy is the one where he came and laid on my chest for hours soon after I was diagnosed. Of course it is silly, but I felt like I could feel the tumors being pulled right out of me by his body heat. I was so, so sick, but his love and devotion comforted me more than I can say.
Happy birthday, precious boy! May we have many, many more together!
Since I began the clinical trial for Opdivo back in July 2013, my life was returned to me. While I was on chemo, there were quite a few days when I wondered if the fight against lung cancer was really worth it.
Chemo made me so violently ill that I can remember being curled up on the bed with my Sheltie Barney wondering how in the world I could endure an existence that put me in such misery, time after time. I began to think that if this is what life is going to be like, let me off of this train sooner rather than later.
With chemo, I would feel good for a day or so after treatment (thank you, steroids!), but then the nausea and vomiting and fatigue would set in. For two or three days, I could get out of bed or off of the couch only to go throw up. I couldn’t eat or drink. It took every ounce of willpower and strength to walk 10 feet into the kitchen.
I couldn’t live. I could only exist … and it wasn’t a pleasant existence.
Fortunately, those horrid days lasted for less than a week. By the second week after a chemo infusion, I was feeling much better. I could eat and drink again. I could make myself live a somewhat normal life. By week three, just in time to go back for another infusion and begin the process all over again, I felt pretty good.
For the first infusions, I was able to keep my spirits high. I could look at the bright side and focus on what I could do, rather than on what I couldn’t. But, the longer the process went on, the harder it was becoming not to get depressed during that third week. I was knowingly getting ready to submit again to a treatment that was going to totally knock the wind out of my sails. Is that insanity, I wondered? Everyone knows Stage IV lung cancer patients don’t live long, I thought, so why was I making myself so miserable for at least a third of the time I had left on this earth?
Chemo treatments went on for about six or seven months. Finally, my doctor said we would take a break from treatments. He hoped the tumors would remain stable, but they didn’t. The minute we stopped treatments, they started growing. All of the headway we had made with the chemo was lost.
That’s when my doctor asked me if I wanted to begin a new regimen of chemo or start a clinical trial. The chemo was expected to be less effective while making me sicker. Ugh. No thanks. Clinical trial, here I come!
I didn’t expect the clinical trial to do anything for me. I expected to be a test subject so that decisions could be made for future cancer fighters.
I could not have been more wrong! From the moment I started the trial, I started feeling better. And my tumors were stopped in their tracks. And, now, 2-1/2 years later, my tumors are still stable and I still feel great!
So, I thought some of those reading this blog might get a little bit of hope from reading about my week last week. I think you will agree that it does not sound like a week in the life of a typical stage IV lung cancer survivor. The good and surprising news is that many other Stage IV lung cancer thrivers DO have similar weeks! Guys, there is HOPE … and lots of it!!
Fun, Fun, and more Fun!
It has taken me awhile to get this blog written. The reason? I’ve been too busy to sit down and write it! Don’t you think that’s a good thing?
The week I sat down to write about started with a Run As One agility trial. In order to have a trial, the barn has to be readied. Linda Lelak and I both start trial weekend on Friday afternoons, helping with set-up. It requires the lugging of equipment from place to place. By the time these pictures were taken, we were nearly finished emptying the stall where everything was stored and carrying it out to the barn.
Since the dogs came to the trial on separate days, we took the opportunity for a photo shoot on Friday after we got things set up!
Saturday and Sunday – 4 days compressed into 2
Cotton got to play on Saturday; Barney on Sunday. They both had a lot of fun! Barney finally earned his last Open Touch N Go title, so he’ll start in Elite at the next trial. We’ve been chasing that title for about two years so I was really excited when we had a clean run!
Here is Barney’s Touch N Go run. He had a good day. He was oh-so-slightly too slow (he missed making time by less than half a second) in Tunnelers to earn a qualifying score, but he qualified in Touch N Go and in his Regular run.
Cotton wasn’t quite as successful! She DID succeed in having a great time, though. And, in all honesty, that’s what it is all about. Just to be fair, here’s one of her runs. You can see that she runs very happy!
But, this is not so much about agility as it is a chronicle of my week. So, let’s move on.
Saturday, November 14th, was a busy date. As I mentioned, I ran Cotton in agility during the day. For the evening, there were three possibilities for activities.
First, American Cancer Society wanted me to speak at a semi-formal fundraising event they were hosting. I frantically looked for a way to get a cocktail outfit without spending a lot of money. I run dogs in barns; I rarely attend events where fancy clothes are necessary. My friends really came through with offers for help. It was heartwarming.
About the time I figured out what I was going to wear, I got an email saying that the event had to be canceled due to lack of ticket sales. I was sad on the one hand … and breathed a sigh of relief on the other. I hated that the event was so poorly supported that it had to be canceled.
I had barely relaxed from having that event canceled when I got a note from my doctor’s office wanting to know if I could attend a Dallas Stars hockey game on Saturday night. I was excited to get the offer to participate with Chris Draft’s Team Draft Foundation, mainly because a good friend and fellow lung cancer survivor was going to be there.
Now, there is another outfit dilemma. I have no Stars jersey to wear. And, once again, I don’t want to spend $50 to $100 (or more) getting one!
Just about the time we decided we would just bite the bullet and get something, I got yet another email saying the event was canceled for Saturday night and would be rescheduled. Ahhh, Saturday night is going to be a night of relaxation after all.
Oh wait! Here comes an invitation to a good agility friend’s birthday party – chips and salsa and nachos … This event did not get canceled! It was a lot of fun to see everyone. I am the only one of that particular crowd who runs NADAC agility. The others run in AKC and/or USDAA, two venues I eschewed after my cancer diagnosis, so it is like a reunion when we get together for a meal.
I came home from the party and did a quick load of laundry (quick = about 2 hours) and crashed so that I could get up before daylight on Sunday.
While I ran four runs on Saturday with Cotton, I only ran three with Barney on Sunday. I knew that I had another obligation to meet on Sunday night and I was afraid there wasn’t time for more runs.
On Sunday night, I had to be in Dallas by 5 PM for a Free to Breathe meeting. This is a foundation that was started by Dr. Joan Schiller, currently the head of oncology at UTSW, and a lung cancer expert. Like LUNGevity, they host a 5K walk to raise money for research.
They also do other events. I had previously worked at one of their tables at a Dallas Stars game doing lung cancer awareness. I’ve tried to determine the major differences between LUNGevity and Free to Breathe. From my own perspective, they both do great work raising funds for research. LUNGevity is also focused very much on lung cancer survivors. They are all about offering HOPE to those of us fighting the disease. They do a wonderful job of it.
Sherry and I have HOPE … and lots of it!
Free to Breathe, I have decided, has a primary focus, besides raising funds for research, of increasing awareness about lung cancer. You will find them at health fairs and other events.
I’m happy to be involved with both organizations because I believe offering survivors and thrivers (a term I learned from Free to Breathe and that I absolutely love) hope and information is incredibly important. Lots of us are living still. Our prognosis is not as dark as it was. This is vitally important information for people with lung cancer. Don’t give up. Never give up.
But, I believe it is equally as important to get the word out to the masses that lung cancer attacks more people than any other cancer besides breast. It kills more than breast, prostate, and colon cancers combined. There are two reasons why I believe lung cancer is so deadly:
1. people believe it is a smokers’ only disease, which couldn’t be further from the truth and 2. it is usually without symptoms until it has advanced to stage 3 or 4.
I had a lot of fun meeting everyone at the Free to Breathe event. I hope I will have a lot of opportunities to work with them … as well as with LUNGevity.
I kept thinking that cramming four days into two over the weekend would not be a problem because I would just rest while I was at chemo. Chemo day (a misnomer, really, because I don’t get chemo, I get immunotherapy … but both require an infusion and it is just easier to call it chemo day!) is usually a long day. It begins with a blood draw. Then, I wait an hour or so while the blood is read. Then, I have a visit with my favorite oncologist in the world. He orders the immunotherapy. It takes an hour or so for the pharmacy to get the life-saving concoction put together. Then, the infusion begins. The drip only takes an hour. Still, even if everything is running like clockwork, which it doesn’t always, I am there for a minimum of 3.5 hours. Usually, it is more like four or five hours.
I love most everyone at UTSW so the time goes pretty fast. Nevertheless, it is a long day. I do not usually rest. Monday was no exception!
I actually had nothing to do on Tuesday. I usually have agility practice, but instead, we had rain. As much as I love my agility lessons, I was happy to have a day off. I did very little besides rest.
On Wednesday, I met a couple of friends for a movie and a late lunch. I never went to the movies until I met Anna. Now, I go at least once a month and often two or three times a month! It is a nice way to lose yourself in a world that doesn’t usually include cancer.
Thursday was an exciting day! I say frequently that having cancer has opened many doors for me that would have never opened otherwise. I can’t exactly be happy that I have cancer, but I can tell you that I am enjoying my life. A lot.
So, Thursday is usually an agility training day so it is always a day I enjoy. But, this Thursday, was something different. Robert and I went back to UTSW, this time to do an interview with WFAA, Channel 8 news.
It just so happened that the interview took place on the day of the Great American Smokeout. So, instead of being on the news once, I should end up being featured twice.
It is with mixed emotions that I was part of the feature above. I surely want people to know that they can and should quit smoking. But, I don’t want anyone to get the mistaken idea that only smokers get lung cancer. Because nothing is further from the truth and way too many people die because they think they are immune.
It only takes lungs to get lung cancer. That’s it.
We are anticipating that another segment will be aired on November 30, during the 4 PM news. I guess I will probably not see it live as I will be having chemo again. It would be highly unusual for me to make it home by 4, especially on a Monday after a long Thanksgiving holiday. Thank goodness for DVRs!
I had so much fun doing the interview. I love my doctor. I love the nurses and aides. It was especially fun that some of them got to be on TV, too! Sonia, the health reporter, was so nice. I felt like we were old friends! And, finally, I had an interview where my mouth didn’t get dry and I didn’t experience a moment of nervousness. Yes!!!!
RW and Kim had come in from New Mexico on Wednesday. They came over to watch the news story with us. Mom came too. Afterwards, Mom took us out to the Goldmine for dinner. It was a really fun day.
On Friday, Linda and I had agility class. We always have so much fun. Both Barney and Louie did an excellent job getting great distance and following our directions. I love to trial, but I love class even more.
After class, RW and Kim came over to help me clean house a bit before we went after Jimmy and Jonah. The kids are spending a little over a week with their dad … and were they excited!!!
Grandma … not the camera AGAIN!!
It is always great fun to have the kids, but it does turn our quiet existence a bit topsy-turvy! The boys have a lot of energy!! And, especially when they first arrive, a lot to say!
On Saturday, we had a great time. Linda, Mom, and I were signed up to work a Lung Cancer Awareness table for Free to Breathe at a Stars ice skating rink in Plano. Genentech was sponsoring a Free Skate for kids and adults as part of the awareness event. So, we all loaded up and headed to the Dr. Pepper StarCenter in Plano.
Neither the kids nor the dad had ever been ice-skating before. They did really well. By the end of the Free Skate, Jonah was skating on his own. Jimmy took off on his own from the start.
We all had a wonderful time. At the Awareness table, we got lots of interest and gave away many blue (LUNGevity) and white (Free to Breathe) bracelets. A few people took more information.
On Sunday, I totally forgot that I am no longer young and did something I haven’t done in years. I got up at 1:30 AM to get ready to go to a dog agility trial in Oklahoma with Ed and Linda and five dogs (three border collies, a Sheltie, and a Pom/Eskie). I picked Linda up at 2:15 and we headed to Ed’s. Because there wasn’t much traffic, we arrived in record time! The house was dark and quiet!
Linda and I, like teenagers, were outside with the dogs, trying to be quiet, but also having fun. She shined the flashlight into the porta-potty so I could see and then we used the flashlight to take the dogs through weave poles. This, my friends, is what they call “agility addicts.”
We were on the road to Norman, OK by 3:30. We laughed and talked, talked and laughed … and had a great time! This trial was done “beta” style, which means you run the same course twice. While we had a great time, Barney and I didn’t manage to have a qualifying score. I had a few chemo brain moments (I get to blame things on chemo brain … it could also have been called “senior moment”) during our runs that cost us. Barney, on the other hand, had some pretty runs!
This run was Regular 1. Barney had a beautiful run. If only his Mom hadn’t forgotten a jump, it would have been one of the nicest runs we’ve had. Where was my head??? On the second time through the exact same course, I managed to include the jump, but Barney thought I really wanted him to do the dogwalk instead of the tunnel at the discrimination. We argued about it for a bit…
What a fun, fun day. We arrived back to Ed’s by 5 or so.
Sum it Up
So … while this week may have been a bit more active and filled with more unusual activities than normal, I managed to do it all. And, keep in mind, chemo (immunotherapy) was part of the week. Had I still been getting chemotherapy, most of the activities described here would have had to be put on hold. But, with immunotherapy, and the way I personally react to it, I had a very, very full week.
Here’s what I want to leave you with. Getting a stage IV lung cancer diagnosis can be devastating. But, it isn’t the end of the world. There is HOPE. There is more and more hope every single day as researchers find more and better ways to treat our cancer.
For the first time ever, Barney and I went to College Station for a two-day agility trial over the July 4th weekend. I had really looked forward to this trip because I enjoy getting out of town and staying in a hotel for a night or two and having a short drive to the agility field.
You would think if I was looking forward to the trip, I might have done a bit of planning. You would think. But, you would be incorrect.
I am not a planner by nature. I tend to fly by the seat of my pants. That was never more evident than on this trip.
I had a busy week prior to leaving. I had chemo (immunotherapy) on Monday. Class on Tuesday and Wednesday. A movie on Thursday. Brunch with friends (both also fighting lung cancer) on Friday before heading out for College Station.
I packed up most of my stuff on Thursday afternoon after the movie and lunch out with Anna. I didn’t do much planning – just started throwing stuff into the bag. It doesn’t take a lot for agility – some socks, underwear, shorts, and t-shirts. No big deal. Not much thought has to go into it. Of course, since I’m taking Barney along, we do have to remember food, bowls, leashes, crate, chair, etc., but really, packing didn’t take a lot of thought.
I finished packing on Friday morning after I had my shower and got my makeup on. Loaded the crate, chair, camera, and my clothes bag into the car before going to meet my friends for brunch so that all I had to do was put together my cooler and grab Barney and my map.
Naturally, I stayed longer at brunch than I should have. I wanted to leave town at around 1 (if not earlier). I got back home from brunch at about 1. So, I was in a real rush to get the rest of my packing done and get out on the road.
Barney and I were all packed up and on the road by 1:30 or so. I called my mom so that I could catch up with what was going on with her while I drove. We talked for an hour or so when I realized that I really had not even read the directions I had printed on how to get to College Station. I had spent several minutes agonizing over the best way to get to the restaurant in Dallas where we were having brunch, but had not even read the directions to a town three hours away where I had not been in over 30 years. Hello????? Anyone home in that brain of yours, Donna????
Somewhere in my mind, I had decided erroneously that there would be an exit to Bryan/College Station off of Interstate 45 and I would just follow the road signs. Sounds plausible, right? After all, College Station is home to Texas A&M, a large, popular university where lots of kids from Dallas choose to go.
Fortunately, I had not gone so far on I45 that I had to turn around, but if I had not gotten off of the phone and looked at my directions, I might have ended up in Houston instead of College Station. I learned as I drove that not only was there no exit off of I45 for Bryan/College Station, once I left the Interstate, I was going to be on multiple two-lane highways.
That’s okay, I thought. I will just use my Google maps to direct me. Wrong. Google Maps didn’t want to find me or direct me. Uuuuggggghhhh! Fortunately, I had printed the directions, along with maps, so I was not completely without resources to guide me. (Naturally, I do not have a paper map.)
It was quite an experience, but I made it fine into College Station. I was shaking my head at myself much of the time. I am still amazed that I failed to prepare for the drive there. What was I thinking? Obviously, I was thinking it was a much easier drive than it proved to be. (Actually, the way we came back home WAS pretty easy, but the backroads way Google had me go was NOT easy!)
I was so excited to go trial at the A&M horse arena. I mean the AIR-CONDITIONED A&M horse arena. Anyone who lives in Texas knows the importance of air conditioning in July! I had heard I might even need a jacket there!!
Well, it wasn’t cold enough for a jacket, but it was a very pleasant trialing experience. Because there was a big price break if you signed up for all of the runs offered, I signed Barney up for 12 runs – six on Saturday, six on Sunday. I drove down on Friday, but originally planned to come home on Sunday after the trial. Thank God, I changed my mind and booked a room for Sunday night as well.
As it turns out, there were 965 runs booked for the weekend. That is a lot of runs. Especially since many of them were novice runs. It was very exciting to see so many dogs in novice. It means our sport and our venue will have people coming up to continue it. On the flip side, novice handlers and/or dogs tend to take a lot longer in the ring.
So, we arrived at the arena at about 7:15 AM on Saturday and we didn’t leave the arena until around 7:30 PM that evening. We had fun, but it was stressful. The arena is air-conditioned, but it is not an easy place to be with a dog that tends to be aggressive toward other dogs (which is how Barney is, unfortunately).
There were many places where people and dogs congregated that were difficult to navigate with Barney. Also, there were many novice people there who haven’t yet learned the importance of keeping their dogs close to them.
There was a lot of noise in the arena. Dogs barking, people talking and enjoying themselves, just a lot of noise. My hearing is not very good – I can hear sounds, but I can’t make out what is being said, especially when there is so much background noise. It is a bit nerve-wracking for me.
Barney had six runs on Saturday: Elite Weavers, Open Chances, Elite Regular 1 and 2, Elite Jumpers, Novice Hoopers. We earned three qualifying scores and three non-qualifying scores. We only got a few of his Saturday runs on video.
A recap of the runs (as best I remember two days later!)
Weavers: oh my! This was our worst run of the weekend. I am not usually nervous when I run, but for some reason, I was a little nervous before we started this one. I don’t know if that’s what the problem was or if Barney was just so excited to be at a trial, or what, but we had a bunch of errors on this run. Most were my fault – I did a poor job of telling him what to do. A few were his fault – like not staying in the weaves. We did have a video of this disaster!
Chances: We have been trying to earn a qualifying score (Q) in open Chances for at least a year. To no avail. Finally, FINALLY, we earned a Q on this run. Admittedly, it was not a very difficult course, but a Q is a Q is a Q! I was so excited! Fortunately, this run was also videoed!
Regular 1 and 2: Neither of these runs were videoed. Barney did a beautiful job in both runs. He earned a Q in Regular 1 and did not earn a Q in Regular 2 because his handler (me) momentarily forgot the course. I sent him over an off-course jump before remembering the flow of the course. HE did a wonderful job and did exactly what I asked him to do.
Hoopers: This is not a game we play very often. In fact, this was only our second time to run a Hoopers course. This one didn’t require any thinking. You just had to guide your dog through a bunch of hoops. The first time we played, several years ago, it was Strategic Hoopers, which requires a lot of planning and thinking. Anyway, Barney did a very nice job in this game.
Jumpers: This was the last game of the day. I was so exhausted I could just barely lift my aching feet. Barney had a perfect run, but apparently we were too slow because he did not earn a Q because we had a time fault. Others also got time faults they didn’t understand or anticipate. We don’t know if the standard course time was incorrect or if we were really that slow at the end of the day.
I was so glad to go home! We stopped and got a pizza that we took back to the room. I rejuvenated a bit after eating, so Barney and I went and walked with Linda and Louie and Diane and her two dogs, Izzy and Sampson. We sat out on a main street and watched what fireworks we could see that were being shot off at A&M. It was a great time to train Barney not to worry about lots of cars zooming by!
I was so tired on Sunday morning that I wasn’t sure I really even wanted to go back to trial. I was not in a great mood when we got there and it got worse before it got better. The incessant barking, the woman sitting next to us who did nothing but complain and talk negatively about other people, the tension at the arena … it was all more than my tired mind could process kindly.
We moved our crates away from the fussy lady and the day (and my attitude) improved appreciably. Thank goodness. I didn’t even like myself. Others sure didn’t want to be around me.
On Sunday, we ran Open Chances, Open Touch N Go, Elite Regular 1 and 2, Elite Jumpers, and Elite Tunnelers. Like on Saturday, we split the day with three qualifying runs and three non-qualifying runs.
A recap of our runs:
Chances: I had so hoped we might earn another qualifying score in open Chances on Sunday, but it was not to be. It was a much more difficult course for us as Barney still doesn’t do a great job of working away from me. Darn it!
Touch N Go: We need one more Q in Open Touch N Go to earn our title. We have been in Open Touch N Go for way too long. This was a fun and easy course (although it was more difficult than I imagined it would be, for Barney and me and for lots of other handlers, too). I could taste that Q! But, I directed Barney poorly which caused him to take a jump or hoop the wrong direction. However, much of his run was very pretty and we handled the areas that gave most dogs/handlers problems.
Regular 1 and 2: We didn’t earn a Q for Regular 1. The fact that I have no start-line stay in trials (but I do in class), caused us an issue in Regular 1. I wasn’t able to direct him as well as I needed to because of where I had to begin our run. He had a pretty nice run other than an off-course early on … and popping out of the weaves near the end.It was funny. Someone was setting up the tunnelers course in the ring behind us. Just as Barney started the weaves, the young man popped a tunnel, trying to straighten it, I think. The noise startled Barney. He stopped. Turned and looked. And popped out of the weaves. I started him over. He got to about the same spot in the weaves and the tunnel behind us was popped again! Barney stopped, looked, but this time he didn’t leave the weaves. I finally got his attention back on the course and we finished. I was not upset because we had already had some faults. Nevertheless, the judge apologized and offered us a chance to run again and the young man who was popping the tunnels came to apologize as well. I appreciated both apologies, but Barney is in elite Regular. He should be able to tune out distractions like popping tunnels.
I finally broke my curse in Regular 2. I had quit running two regular courses back to back because I tend to get confused. Regular 2 is usually an exact flipped course of Regular 1. It is easy for me to forget what course I’m running and start running the previous course. This time, we ran Regular 2 quickly and accurately.
Yea! Finally a first and Q. I kept trying to get a first place because the club hosting this trial had cute toys that I wanted Barney to win for Cotton. I chose a little husky dog that Cotton loved for about 5 minutes after I gave it to her this afternoon. She has already destuffed it. I was sad to see that.
Jumpers: Barney had a nice run in jumpers. I was hoping maybe we would come in first here, but an Australian shepherd beat us by tenths of a second.
Tunnelers: Again, we had a nice run with over 5 yards per second, but we came in second again. No more toys for Cotton 🙁
The courses this weekend were a lot of fun. Looking back, I had more fun than I felt like I was having while it was happening. The very, very long days were quite difficult for me. I think I am not healthy enough, no matter how much I want to be, for such long days. I hate that. A lot.
Thank goodness, Diane knew a better way to come home than the way I traveled to get there. Linda and Louie rode home with Barney and me. It was nice to have company. We followed Diane to I45, which was also nice! I didn’t have to worry about whether I was on the right route or not like I did when I was on my way there.
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? NO!!!!
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 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.
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.
Let us hope!
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.
“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.
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!
I haven’t updated my blog in a long time. How does that help provide hope? It doesn’t … so here i am, hopefully able to provide hope to any of you who have been diagnosed with lung cancer or who have loved ones who have been diagnosed.
I was first diagnosed in October 2012. I have passed the critical one year milestone and will see the 3 year mark, God willing, in just a few more months. Trust me, i thank my Lord every single day for my life. So very many don’t make it even a Year.
I love being alive and on this earth. Here to enjoy my family, friends, and dogs. But, God is good whether He decides to leave me here on earth or bring me home to Him. Talk about a win-win situation! i just can’t lose!
While i am here, i try hard to live every day to the fullest. Fortunately, i feel good, thanks to the immunotherapy i receive every two weeks. Barring bad news from the CT scans i had today, my tumors have remained stable since i began my immunotherapy clinical trial in 7/2013. Praise God!
So, what does living look like For this stage IV lung cancer survivor?
Dogs, dogs, dogs!
My dogs continue to dominate my life. They bring me such joy and give me so many reasons to want to live.
It is funny to post a snow picture since it is nearly 80 outside on this late March day. But, those two lovers of life get such joy out of the very limited snow we get here in Texas. Cotton also gets great joy in rolling in coyote poop. You can see how nicely she decorated herself in this picture!
The dogs and i meet our friends Linda and Louie (her precious Pom/Eskie mix) nearly every day to walk. We used to walk at least 3 miles every day. Lately, we have cut that down to around two miles because we come back to a field to practice obedience/agility skills.
Linda and I are fortunate enough to be taking agility lessons with Ed Scharringhausen at Run As One Agility. I have taken lots of classes over the last 6 years. Our classes with Ed make all others pale in comparison. We practice the skills he teaches us all week so that our dogs will be ready to move on when we return to class.
We also take classes with Pam White. Like Ed, she will analyze our runs from trials and is working hard with us to teach us distance and obedience skills. We are so fortunate to have two teachers who put so much into us and our dogs.
So, what’s this agility about which I speak so fondly?
This is Barney and me running a jumpers agility course. The handler directs their dog around a numbered course. Speed and accuracy are required.
Here is another run from the March 2015 Run As One trial:
Here, the dog must navigate a number of different obstacles. Barney and I LOVE to play agility. As you can see, it takes a great deal of energy.
I have not been able to participate in lessons or trials like i did before i was diagnosed. My stamina is not as good and my pocketbook is much slimmer than it was. However, with the current 2 classes a week and, hopefully, at least a trial a month, we are coming back!
Cotton doesn’t play agility as much. She’s an awesome agility dog, but she doesn’t always care to participate. Like all sports, it is somewhat expensive. Since my funds are now so limited, i mostly train and trial with Barney, my boy who loves to please and loves to play agility.
As you watch the videos, remember it is a stage IV lung cancer survivor running those courses. Awesome, huh?
Just for fun, i will post a video of Cotton from the December 2014 trial. First, you will see Barney run the course as designed and then you will see Cotton.
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Here we go! Formatting restored!
My favorite thing to do is spend time with my dogs and friends who also love dogs. But, especially as the weather warms, i also enjoy container gadening, watching the birds, and photography.
For the first time, i am trying herb gardening. I love my 3-tiered pot. Just bought two more from Amazon … one for mom and another for me. I am going to put some tomatoes and strawberries in the new pot. Not sure what else… i can’t wait to see how it goes! Fresh tomatoes and strawberries sounds heavenly though, huh?
I haven’t taken many pictures lately nor have i had time to really spend watching my birds. Soon, the hummers will be back … can’t wait!! Will have to find some time to enjoy these activities.
It is also nearly bluebonnet time here in Texas. I LOVE the bluebonnets. I combine 3 loves during the month or so they are out: my dogs, flowers, and photography! Here’s an example from last year:
Well, Robert is hungry. I need to end this and get him something to eat.
Here’s my final thought : if you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, even late stage lung cancer, do not give up! There is still life to be had. Grab it with gusto!