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Found 5 results

  1. Baseball is a game that requires patient players and fans. Like lung cancer treatment, there is a lot of waiting for something to happen. Also like lung cancer, the game is unpredictable. A single pitch can change the outcome of a game like a single cell can change the outcome of treatment. And like lung cancer, baseball has many uncertainties and these are defined by odds. The best hitters succeed a little better than one in three times; the best teams winning about six in ten games. Baseball players need to persevere against low odds of success to achieve victory. So do lung cancer patients. A lung cancer diagnosis is devastating. Recurrence after treatment is common and traumatizing. We ought to prepare for the distress of recurrence. Treatment, even for those diagnosed at early stage, is not likely to be a walk-off home run. I was not prepared for treatment failure. How common is recurrence? A National Cancer Institute study suggests about 33 percent of stage IA and IB patients experience a reoccurrence. Up to 66 percent of stage IIA, IIB, or IIIA experience a reoccurrence. Interestingly, these percentages are virtually identical for both adenocarcinoma and squamous cell lung cancers. What about stage IIIB or IV disease? The study reports recurrence about half that of lower stages but suggests this is due to competing risk of mortality. Including surgery, my treatment success average was a dismal 1 for 5. That translates to a baseball batting average of .200, yielding a quick trip to the minor leagues. I had four recurrences after no evidence of disease (NED) treatments. We didn’t know perseverance was a requirement and we were not prepared. How should we prepare? Here is what I didn’t do. Have a frank conversation with my oncologist seeking information on recurrence likelihood. Share this information with my family to ensure they were prepared for bad news. Finally, celebrate my NED state by fully engaging in life. NED is that extra life treatment buys and we did not take maximum advantage of it. A sidebar benefit of surviving is accumulating lessons learned. I now completely understand that lung cancer is a persistent malady that is difficult to eradicate with unpredictable treatment outcomes. Like the best baseball players, we need to take our turn at each new treatment with a fresh perspective, forgetting our last experience and striving only to put the ball in play and arrest our disease. Stay the course.
  2. I am not a statistics wizard; an engineer, I value the predictive power of statistics. Indeed, if one can precisely control variables, a statistics-based prediction of the future is remarkably accurate. The joy of predicting end strength for a new carbon-nanotube concrete mix design melts the heart of this engineer. But, concrete is a thing with but 4 variables to control. Human beings have perhaps millions of variables, thus predictions about people are vastly more complicated and inaccurate. Statistically-based predictive power has a foreboding downside. The methodology is used by the medical profession to forecast life after diagnosis with late-stage lung cancer. Unfortunately, I have first-hand experience once predicted with but 6 months of remaining life nearly 13 years ago! My doom was forecasted with high statistical confidence and for a while, I believed it. In the dwell time between treatments, I searched for methods used to generate my projection of demise. Each patient’s type, stage, age, ethnicity, race, and date of diagnosis are reported to the National Cancer Institute on diagnosis. Deaths are also reported but not the cause of death. Nothing is captured on complicating health problems like cardio-pulmonary disease, diabetes, or other life-threatening maladies. The predictive data set appeared slim and uncontrolled. My doom and resulting gloom waned while mindlessly searching web pages for statistical good news. Ammunition in the form of a powerful essay by the noted Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould – “The Median Isn’t The Message” – contained: “…leads us to view statistical measures of central tendency [median or mean] wrongly, indeed opposite to the appropriate interpretation in our actual world of variation, shadings, and continua.” This meant the statistician seeks to combine data and express it as a median or mean to predict or explain. I’d forgotten that I was one inaccurate variable in a “world of variation.” One data point used to calculate a central tendency of survival for about 1.4 million Americans diagnosed in 2004. I might be the one holding the right-shifted curve from intersection with the axis of doom. Gould survived 20-years beyond his late-stage, nearly always fatal, abdominal mesothelioma cancer diagnosis. Ironically, he passed after contracting another form of unrelated cancer. A distinguished scientist, Gould eloquently described the limits of science and statistics by suggesting that “a sanguine personality” might be the best prescription for success against cancer. There is always hope, with high confidence. Listen to his essay here. Stay the course. ____________ Get your copy of Scanziety here https://www.amazon.com/Scanziety-Retrospection-Lung-Cancer-Survivor-ebook/dp/B01JMTX0LU
  3. 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.
  4. Today we celebrate 13 years of surviving NSCLC. I'm borrowing three toes from Martha, my wife and caregiver extraordinaire, who deserves most of the credit for my continued life. Martha did the heavy lifting during treatment, asking the right questions at the right time, and prodding my medical team with just the right touch. By comparison, I was at wit's end during my nearly 4 years of continuous treatment. Doctors McK (GP), H (Oncologist) and C (Thoracic Surgeon) also deserve a lion's share of credit. Collectively, they share a trait that distinguishes them from the rest of medical community -- they treat people, not patients. The red toenail painting tradition was started by a Dr. Phillip Berman, radiologist and never smoker, who was diagnosed with Stage IV NSCLC. In an early Internet cancer website he founded, RedToeNail.org, he vowed to paint a toenail red for each year he survived what he called "this nastiness." He painted 5 before passing but taught me a great deal about living with lung cancer. During treatment, he was playing with his children, exercising, interacting with friends, and finding something to enjoy every day. In other words, he embraced the life he had and lived every day reveling in the joy he discovered. His lesson -- those who choose treatment choose life and the important thing is to do something with the life you have. I pass his powerfully evocative message to you. If you suffer with lung cancer then resolve to live every day and find something to enjoy. Realize that if I can live, so can you. Paint your toenails red! Stay the course. Tom
  5. Just reported is a Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Cornell University study showing but 5% of terminally ill cancer patients understand the gravity of their disease and prognosis. Moreover, only 23 percent of these had a discussion about life expectancy with their doctor. At first pass, I questioned the validity of the percentages. They were so low they bordered on unbelievable. This had to be mainstream press sensationalism at work! Then I spoke with an expert, and she convinced me I was not a typical lung cancer patient. The fact that I read about my disease after diagnosis was a big tell. Many do not. My education about lung cancer started the first night of my diagnostic hospital stay. The lesson delivered ⎯ a very pragmatic and frank discussion with my general practitioner. His words characterizing my prognosis were "slim odds." He didn't want me to give up but wanted to ensure I knew the enemy. After discharge from my diagnosis hospital admission, I burned up the Google Search Engine reading everything I could about lung cancer. In 2004 there were not a lot of sources, but there were enough to scare the living daylights out of me. Research revealed a very low probability of living 5 years even with effective treatment. My bravery evaporated. My wife recalls that time. She reminded that my inquisitive nature departed with bravery. Martha asked questions. These explored diagnosis, treatment possibilities, and prognosis. I mostly stared at the clock in the consultation room. Or tried to change the subject. My oncologist was frank. He said even with successful surgery, I had high odds of reoccurrence. When tumors appeared after pneumonectomy, he was down to chemotherapy to combat my lung cancer. Chemotherapy would buy time but it wouldn’t eradicate. Time purchased allowed for CyberKnife technology to emerge that was a surer kill. But treatment opportunities were explored because Martha was persistent. After a year of surgical mayhem and two years of Taxol Carboplatin hardened with Tarceva, I was barely along for the ride. Sure, I knew my prognosis and life expectancy probability but knowledge did not empower me; it empowered Martha. So maybe the study numbers are low because patients understand their dire straits. Maybe we know and are afraid to talk about it. In case you are wondering, lung cancer is deadly. Mostly because it displays few symptoms and is often diagnosed at late stage. The treatment tool kit for late stage lung cancer is largely empty. Why? Now that is a good question; one deserving of academic study. I’ll start. Let’s hypothesize that lung cancer is a self-induced disease ⎯ people give it to themselves. If this is true, why should society invest in new diagnostic or curative means? As a logical extension of the hypothesis, society should never invest in curing maladies that are self-induced. How is taxpayer funded research for HIV/AIDS by the National Institute of Health to the tune of $3 billion a year explained? It is self-induced. Some will assert that a proportion of HIV/AIDS patients get the affliction accidentally. Yes, and some proportion of lung cancer patients are never smokers. But, drug abuse is completely self-induced and it garners just over $1 billion in yearly research. In the same data year, lung cancer was allocated but $225 million. No research for self-induced hypothesis fails. Let’s construct another hypothesis: society funds diagnostic and curative research for diseases that kill the most people. Seems reasonable. Scarce resources ought to flow to afflictions that take the most lives. Let’s examine the data. In 2012, HIV/AIDS claimed 12,963 deaths according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). In that same year, lung cancer killed 157,425! Drug abuse is now anointed our national pandemic. Indeed prescription opioid overdose is “raging through the country.” CDC drug overdose deaths amounted to 38,538 in 2014 but in that year lung cancer deaths were 158,080. Lung cancer is our pandemic. It has been for a long time. The more-deaths-the-more-funding hypothesis is toast! Frankly, I’m getting tired of the medical research community squandering precious dollars studying what cancer patients think, feel, or understand. What is far more relevant is how to find, fix, and finish lung cancer. Stay the course.
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