In 2018, I celebrated turning 70 and retirement by setting several challenges for myself including running my first half-marathon in July and finishing building a sailboat and getting it on the water in October. However, by November, I was plagued with chronic coughing and pain in my chest, and low back. The diagnosis that I had an incurable Stage-4 Lung Cancer that had spread through my chest, right hip, and left shoulder shocked me. I had been physically fit and active my whole life and had no reason to think I was at risk of lung cancer. The impact of the diagnosis was like having a semi-truck crash through the wall of your living room.
For the first few days, I regretted waking up and not being able to see any future. Then one morning, I had the profound realization that the cancer was just another challenge in my 70th year, and it would require a physical, emotional and spiritual effort to address it.
My oncologist said that, though incurable, the cancer was “eminently treatable,” and the plan was to use chemotherapy to get into remission and immunotherapy indefinitely to “buy some good years.” That proved to be the case when, after 90 days of chemo, the CT scan showed no sign of cancer, a status which is called “complete remission. We dropped the chemo and continued with immunotherapy infusions for two years. Now, at 28 months post diagnosis, I am off any cancer treatment and am relying on my immune system only.
My perspectives on cancer have changed. I now see it as a “not-so-excellent adventure”, but an adventure nonetheless. I learned I am not unique, that among my friends, acquaintances, and their families, cancer is common and that half of all men in the U.S. and a third of the women will have cancer in their lifetimes. I discovered that there is a wonderful community of support among those dealing with cancers and that by serving others, I could spend much less time worrying about myself.
I realize the fact that I am only alive today because of the research and development of cancer treating drugs, the cancer treatment protocols, the state-of-the-art cancer treatment center in my city, and the competence, care and compassion of the nurses and doctors who sustain us and see us through these challenges. I am grateful for the American Lung Association and its long time advocacy for our lung health.
I am filled with both gratitude and sorrow: gratitude for the days that now feel like the rarest of gifts and for the things I have learned from cancer; sorrow, for the pain of friends who have not been able to get into remission and for their suffering, deaths and our grief at their loss.