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Tom Galli


Red, in white shirt and loose thin-black tie and sweating in Maine’s summer heat, is leaning on a rock-wall fence.  He’s just opened Andy’s letter found under the black obsidian rock.  In the background we hear Andy reading his evocative description of hope: “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things and no good thing ever dies.” The movie Shawshank Redemption is a powerful story about hope and life with a message that should resonate with every lung cancer survivor.

I watched the movie the other day and made the connection.  Andy was imprisoned for two life sentences with no possibility of parole.  He was wrongly convicted of murder and throughout the story of his day-to-day life in prison, everyone tells him “hope is a dangerous thing.”  On escaping, Andy proclaims that hope is “maybe the best of things.”  The movie story line is exactly parallel to the plight of the late-stage diagnosed lung cancer patient ⎯- an unforgiving disease with hope as the most effective means of avoiding consequences.

For lung cancer, hope is not a medical remedy.  While new lung cancer treatments are emerging more frequently now, basic research funding to diagnose and treat lung cancer lags other cancers.  Perhaps the pace may pick up, one hopes.  Perhaps a treatment may emerge just in time to save a life, one hopes.  Perhaps a miracle remission occurs, one hopes.  Hope may not be a medical remedy but, for many of us, it is our only effective medicament.  And, in my case, hope is “maybe the best of things.” 

Recall the story line of Shawshank.  Andy’s future is confinement in a mind numbing institution, but he makes a choice to live in a different reality and works diligently, every day, on a novel escape plan. He makes a conscious decision to live.  He embraces the hope of escape against all odds.  Andy’s poignant characterization about life reveals his reasoning: “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really.  Get busy living or get busy dying.”  Exactly!

Sometimes in the heat of lung cancer treatment, we forget its purpose ⎯- extended life.  No one knows how long but life for most is extended. So what do we do with the extension?  Re-read Andy’s characterization.

We long for a period of life extending into satisfying old age.  But most without lung cancer do not dwell on the amount remaining on account.  Lung cancer patients take careful measure of the balance.  But, measure for what end?  I believe, if one chooses treatment, then one chooses life.  Rather than dwell on the remaining balance, focus on doing something you enjoy everyday.  I suggest a survivor forget the past, declare the future irrelevant, and live in the day.

“Get busy living or get busy dying.”

Stay the course.


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I love this...it puts into succinct words what I have been trying to do "get busy living"! I realize, with a late-stage diagosis & one recurrence already, that my long term prognosis is not great. I don't have any control over how long I have left, but, right now, I have total control over how I choose to spend it.

After healing from nasty radiation burns, I have gone indoor sky-diving (basically a vertical wind tunnel) w/my daughters & grandkids, ridden dirt bikes with the younger boys & am going to their house this afternoon to fulfill my promise of trying to do a flip on their trampoline...if cancer doesn't get me soon, the grandkids "ideas" just might!

You have a gift, Tom, thanks so much for sharing it with us.





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I have a question.   I hope it's OK to ask it here, I'm just trying to learn how to navigate the site, so excuse me if I am writing in the wrong place.     About a year and a few months ago I had surgery due to finding a small mass or nodule on my upper right lobe,

on my lungs which started to grow slowly.   In the surgery it was biopsied and found to be non small cell adenocarcinoma.   Doctor said I had stage 1a.  No chemo or anything followed.  Now a year and a few months later another mass or spot found.   First sugery was suggested from my oncologist. I went to the sugeon for f/up and he said I am not operable.    The oncologist then said watch and wait for 3 months to take another scan to see if this mass grows.  I am due to f/up CT scan at the end of this month.  People like my brother who is a retired MD asked me back then are you sure it's OK to 'wait and watch'  My PCP also said "I don't agree with waiting, I think you should do something right awa y like biopsy.  I was very overwhelmed at the time. 

Now, In thinking this through,  first doctor said surgery and couldn't do surgery said 'watch and wait'     That seems like a 180 degree turn from suggesting something aggressive like surgery to 'watch and wait.'   I am ofcourse going to do the CT scan soon, yet I also am planning on asking my PCP  - who I really trust for a 2nd opinion.

Any comments?           (I send my best wishes to the last person who is concerned about their dad)  Again I am sorry if I wrote in the wrong place but not too good at technology

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Sorry for the delay in responding. Our WIFI coverage is spotty. 

Your concern is should you get a second opinion. Of course you should and as Katie says from another surgeon. 

I don't like the watch and wait strategy. It drove me nuts realizing there was a tumor inside my body that was capable of spreading. 

Doctors have an important job and we place a lot of trust in them. But medicine is an art (what to do) and a science (how to do it) and figuring out what is vastly more difficult than how. To answer what to do -- to operate or not -- requires experience and each surgeon has a different experience base. So yes, by all means get a second and perhaps third opinion. 

Don't worry about the right or wrong place to write. Anywhere will do and we'll eventually find you. 

Stay the course. 


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