A lady with lung cancer passed early this morning. I knew her well. She survived two surgeries claiming a lung, radiation, and many many infusions of chemotherapy. Indeed, her disease was being treated like diabetes or heart disease — a chronic but controlled condition.
Lung cancer did not claim her and death is not a celebratory event, but living a full and meaningful life despite lung cancer is indeed praiseworthy. In characterizing the lady’s life, full and meaningful are an enormous understatement.
In recalling our years together, I am struck by how few times we talked about lung cancer. We shared a disease but talked about stock shows, cars, fashion, movies, politics, family, travel, ranching, tomatoes, and friends. That she would not achieve NED didn’t bother her a bit. “I’ve got things to do and doing nothing ain’t gonna happen!”
I will morn her passing. I will also strive to emulate her lifestyle.
Stay the course.
Facing a lung cancer diagnosis changes a person’s perspective about what matters in life and what doesn’t. Being diagnosed with cancer makes you put absolutely everything else to the side, or totally out of mind. You have the chance to let back in only the things that really matter back into your conscious mind. If you can do that, and spend more time focusing on things that really matter in the present moment, you will have completely changed and improved your mind and your life. I still get caught up in feeling anxious or scared about what might happen in the future and the negative impact it could have on my family, especially my wife and daughters. What’s helped me has been to realize that they are thoughts – they don’t have a physical presence anywhere and if you observe them but don’t chase after them, they go away.
If I could give advice to someone newly diagnosed, I’d probably want to say a few things.
1. Slow down. Information is going to be coming at you really fast and it can be overwhelming, especially with the internet making everything move at hyper speed. Take your time to digest what’s out there in terms of treatment options, support systems, heavy medical information, etc.
2. Get yourself into a respected cancer center as soon as possible. Find an oncologist that you trust and have a good relationship with, and then TRUST that doctor.
3. Take everything, except what your oncologist tells you to your face, with a grain of salt. There is a ton of real, semi-bogus and totally bogus information out there about magical cures and treatments. Ask your doctor about all of them but, in the end, do what he or she advises.
4. Take a step back, look at the road ahead as objectively as you can and try to be practical. It is the “C” word but, after all, it’s an illness not a curse or a death sentence. Come up with a treatment plan together with your doctor, follow that plan and do what you need to do in order to stay healthy
5. Don’t give cancer more power than it already has by thinking you can’t face it and just giving up. You can face it. Maybe not today, or all the time, but eventually and most of the time you can.
Lung cancer is just the same as any other kind of cancer. It will take the people you love just as heartlessly as any other form of the disease. It’s really good at taking people away; men and women, smokers and non-smokers, old and young, any race and origin. In fact, it’s better at that than most other cancers. We could all get cancer, and none of us would deserve it. We should fight it with research funding, trials, promoting new and existing treatments, by helping people pay for treatment, and everything else at our disposal. Not giving lung cancer the fight it deserves leaves us all that much more powerless to stop it from taking away someone we love.
I'm the guy who paints a toenail for every year I live beyond my February 4, 2004 diagnosis day. This year our toes are LUNGevity Blue to honor the foundation that is dedicated to changing outcomes for people with lung cancer through research, education and support.
There are many people who've been instrumental in my survival and making a life after; none are more important than my loving wife -- Martha Galli. If I can live, so can you!
Stay the course.