Twenty years ago, on this date, I was handed a surprise diagnosis of lung cancer in an emergency room. The X-ray showed a very large tumor in my right lung that perfectly explained hemoptysis, the reason for my ER visit. My GP admitted me for a diagnostic work-up, and I spent 4-days inhaling albuterol while being scanned, poked, and prodded.
In the hospital, I met my medical oncologist and pulmonologist who told me I had about a 7 x 2.5 cm tumor filling the main stem bronchus of my right lung. The tumor was bulging into my airway causing vigorous coughing and complicating an unsuccessful flexible bronchoscope biopsy. Several drama-filled weeks later, my thoracic surgeon performed a biopsy to reveal squamous cell carcinoma. Unusually, no lymph nodes were involved. Staging was complicated; no lymph node involvement suggested IIIA but size pointed to IIIB.
There were few resources in those days explaining lines of treatment or prognosis. The American Cancer Society suggested smoking cessation as a treatment method. Dr. Google revealed I might have 6 months of remaining life.
Treatment started with chemoradiation to shrink the tumor and allow a pneumonectomy and ended with precision radiation to fry a reluctant tumor camping in my left lung (metastasis after surgery). I had 4 recurrences and 5 lines of treatment before achieving no evidence of disease (NED) in March 2007. My medical oncologist deemed me cured of lung cancer in March 2021 and then retired from practice.
What have I learned? Medical statistics predicting remaining life by stage and type of lung cancer are imprecise and inaccurate, even today. Why? Listen to this elegant essay “The Median isn’t the Message” by Professor Stephen J. Gould that kindled the first ray of hope for a good outcome.
Depression does not improve by ignoring symptoms. Thankfully, doctors who treat lung cancer today are assessing for depression and referring to professionals. Expect to be depressed and cooperate with treatment.
Faith and hope matter and I believe they influence outcomes. I am a man of religious faith, but faith is an innately human trait. Religion is not required to believe treatments not seen are working to combat lung cancer, and faith fosters hope, and “hope is a good thing and good things never die.”
Finally, consider that if I can live, so can you!
Stay the course.