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Found 4 results

  1. MY STEPS TO SURVIVING A LUNG CANCER DIAGNOSIS Step 1 – Invest in sophisticated diagnosics before diagnosis If you smoke, were a long-term smoker, or are in an occupation that exposes you to carcinogenic toxins (asbestos removal, auto mechanic, painter, etc.), I suggest getting a computed tomography (CT) scan, often called a CAT scan, of the chest once a year. Insurance now covers it and CT will detect tumors far earlier than a chest x-ray. Early detection of small tumors dramatically enhances your survival chances. I had a chest x-ray in January 2004 and was diagnosed with stage 3b, non-small cell lung cancer the following month. The tumor hadn’t shown on the x-ray; but at diagnosis, it was almost 3 inches long and ½ inch in diameter. The only symptom I had was coughing up blood the day before diagnosis. Learn more about early CT screening. Step 2 – Choose a good general practitioner Your general practitioner may be the manager of your lung cancer treatment. The GP likely will pick your cancer team and may need to do a little arm-twisting to get things moving. Therefore, there can be great benefits to having a GP who is seasoned and well known in the medical community. I prefer doctors of osteopathic medicine to medical doctors. I’ve found that in my experience the former treat people, not patients. I believe a good physician shows kindness, consideration, and compassion toward those in his or her care. These characteristics are essential. Be sure you know your GP and your GP knows you. Such knowledge and trust will give you a survival edge. There are great health care professionals out there. Step 3 – Ensure your oncologist is a physician A doctor has a degree in medicine and a license to practice. A physician is devoted to restoring, maintaining, and promoting your good health. My physician oncologist does a complete examination (looks in eyes, nose, and throat, checks pulse in the extremities, checks reflexes, listens to breathing and heart rate) every visit. He reviews and explains all test results and asks how I feel. He looks at me as I speak, and he listens and makes notes on what I say. He carefully explains medical treatment alternatives that may arrest the disease, and together we choose each next step. He never rushes consultations and, consequently, often is late to scheduled appointments. Because his tardiness results from spending time with those he treats, I know he cares about me and every other patient. These are some characteristics your physician oncologist should possess. Step 4 – Learn about your disease At diagnosis, I had no idea what lung cancer was. Moreover, I didn’t know what an oncologist did, nor could I spell the word! After diagnosis, I read everything I could find about the disease; a good resource is the www.LUNGevity.org website. Then I read medical journals, government reports, research papers, and studies. I made notes about things I didn’t understand and asked questions at my oncology consultations. My wife attended every consultation, procedure, and test to ensure every question was asked and answered, and that we understood the answers. You need to know about type, stage, statistics, radiation, diagnostics, chemotherapy, side effects, surgical options, and so much more. Your chances of survival are improved if you are informed enough to ask highly perceptive questions. Step 5 – Acquire a sanguine attitude quickly Cancer is a disease of death; lung cancer kills more than all other cancers. Your attitude toward treatment is, I believe, essential to survival. When you acquire a sanguine attitude, your treatment team will notice your optimism. They will enjoy interacting with you; they will care about you. I strongly suggest you read Stephen Jay Gould’s essay “The Median Isn’t the Message” to help you understand survival statistics and find optimism about what appear to be bleak probability of survival projections. Join a cancer blog or messageboard. I am a member of several where I can broadcast my complaints and protestations to people who understand and have useful advice for coping. Find cancer support groups and join one. Most people who treat you have no idea how you are feeling. But survivors in cancer support groups understand; they know how you feel—you’ll fit right in! Step 6 – Any port in a storm There is no such thing as “a little stick!” During procedures and treatment, almost everyone will attempt to gain access to your veins with an intravenous device of some type. All such intrusions are uncomfortable, and unless the practitioner is good and lucky he or she will miss more often than not. If your treatment involves intravenously administered chemotherapy, you likely will get stuck at least once a week. A good way to avoid discomfort and frustration is to ask for a port. Installation involves simple, low-risk surgery. Once in place, you need to keep the area clean and exercise precautions when bathing—but access to your veins is no longer a storm but a port in a storm! Step 7 – Don’t believe the miracle cure The consequences of a lung cancer diagnosis are frightening. For most, it will be your first serious encounter with the prospect of death. When you type “lung cancer” into Google, you will be bombarded by advertisement that promises miracle cure at considerable expense. There is no such thing as a miracle cure! Before you invest time (now precious) investigating one of these “too good to be true” remedies, check it out on www.quackwatch.org and discuss it with your physician. Oncology is a medical science. Procedures, drugs, and protocols are tested using scientific methods that are published and reviewed by peers and regulating organizations. When science-based breakthroughs are discovered, they are broadcast very quickly throughout the practitioner community.Read about Steve Jobs—one of the smartest technologists and businessmen the world has ever known—who delayed his cancer treatment. Step 8 – Don’t try to tough it out I am a retired soldier and believed I was man enough to handle almost anything. Cancer proved to be the “anything” I could not handle! I suffered a long time trying to tough it out before I admitted I was depressed. My physician’s response: “Of course you are depressed—how could you not be?” He prescribed appropriate medication, arranged consultations with a psychologist, and suggested I attend support groups. Unless you are tougher than I, you will experience depression. Admit it and accept help. Here are some other things you might try. Ask for the “freeze spray” before an IV is used. If claustrophobic, get a script for Xanax and take it shortly before scans. Even in summer, wear warm clothing to diagnostic and infusion sessions. Some areas where these take place are kept very cold. Many treatment centers have volunteers—engage one in conversation. Many are survivors or caregivers and have a wealth of helpful information. During consultations, I was so frightened I couldn’t rationally ask questions about results or next steps, and I certainly couldn’t remember what was said. Consequently, I never go alone to a consultation. I suggest if you can, always have someone with you too. Step 9 – Become a calendar maniac If you have a smartphone with a calendar application, become an expert in its use. If not, keep a paper “cancer calendar” to record information. Your life after diagnosis will likely become filled with scheduled appointments, and given the nature of the disease and intensity of the battle, these are appointments you don’t want to miss. For example, my chemotherapy cycle required an infusion every third Friday. I had to record three rounds of steroid medication taken every six hours before each infusion. I had a scheduled blood test every Monday following infusion. Nausea started Sunday morning and lasted until Tuesday. Joint pain started Wednesday and lasted until Saturday. If I took the nausea medication about an hour before onset, symptoms often were minimal. Furthermore, if I started pain medication a couple of hours before onset, my pain was manageable. I used the alarm feature on my phone to warn me in advance. Plus, there was life to live, and the calendar helped me avoid conflicts between my cancer treatment schedule and my life events schedule. Step 10 – Choose to live When asked about my cancer experience, I often tell those in treatment that cancer is a disease of life or death. I believe if you choose treatment, you are choosing life. And if you choose to live, do something with the life you are given. The “something” will be different for each of us, but doing whatever you enjoy or find fulfilling is so important. If you enjoyed an activity before diagnosis, do it afterward. Look at yourself in the mirror every morning. If you don’t see an expiration date stamped on your forehead, then enjoy the day and look forward to the next! Oh, by the way, your hair will grow back! Baldness is a beautiful badge of courage. Stay the course.
  2. The nature of the World Wide Web is the essence of its creators. We’ve made a conduit of ideas and information that chronicles every facet of human behavior and lots of non-human behavior. One can find a searchable version of the bible and then click to something that would be an embarrassing find in the bible. The Internet is encyclopedia, newspaper, entertainment, and abstraction all available with only one precondition, access. I was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer in 2004. The Internet existed but people-to-people interactions were limited to mostly email. Nevertheless, the Internet allowed access to all kinds of information about lung cancer—some of it scholarly and some of it junk. As I recall, there was nothing resembling today’s cancer message boards where people could communicate, consult, and commiserate with one another. Today, there are many and I’ll reveal how one helped me recover from depression and find hope. In March 2006, I was in active third line treatment, infused Taxol and Carboplatin hardened by the oral chemotherapy drug Tarceva. After three failed surgeries and twelve failed chemotherapy cycles. My lung cancer was persistent and I was depressed. Watching TV on a Sunday afternoon in the throes of side effects, I saw a CNN broadcast interview with Phillip Berman, M.D. Phil was a radiologist, never smoker, and lung cancer patient who ironically was diagnosed about the same time as me. He started a cancer blog to keep friends and family informed about his treatment. It morphed into RedToeNail.org. I joined, thus starting my therapy online. Why does it work for me? First is recognition that I’m not alone. Cancer treatment is a slog through appointments and side effects. It is beneficial to be reminded that others are trudging that same ground. Next, these people understand my disease, its treatments and mistreatments. Moreover, they have useful tips and tricks that work! I recall to this day the suggestion I eat a steamed bowl of plain rice each morning before taking Tarceva. It laughed at Imodium, but respected the rice. Last, it is a channel for me to express my thoughts, ideas and uncertainties with people who completely understand. To say they’ve been there and done that is a vast understatement. They designed the tee shirt the experts purchased! Today’s Internet has many opportunities to connect survivors and caregivers. There is the ubiquitous thumbs-up symbol, short sentence reply, and emoji of popular social media platforms. This is fast-paced therapy connecting hundreds, perhaps thousands quickly. It is useful, but I prefer message boards. I like to take the time to read, reflect, and recall my experience when someone reaches out for help. Both, however, are effective. It is interesting to explore why. I’ve attended hundreds of cancer support groups. They are beneficial, but I well recall my first several sessions. Certainly I was made welcome, but the fear I had of my disease was bested only by the fear I felt talking about it. I’m a relaxed public speaker but not a public cancer speaker. As I grew comfortable with a group, I realized another downside. Regulars stopped showing up. The very nature of lung cancer makes support groups a population in decline. Moreover, treatment side effects always seemed to coincide with the support group meeting. People in treatment didn’t feel well enough to attend. I’ve also been an individual support resource both in person and telephonically. First meetings are a bit awkward but these can be very effective for both survivors. There is a shared experience and in every case, this led to a meaningful relationship. There is that same downside of the support group; lung cancer claims a life and now it is a life I was personally and emotionally connected to. It takes a very special constitution to provide survivor-to-survivor support and mine doesn’t measure up. So I work the message boards, mostly at the LUNGevity Forum but some others. I am relatively new to the LUNGevity Forum and it is fascinating to read the history of the survivors, year after year. Some move on to other activities but return after a long absence to a rousing welcome. Why? For exactly the same reason online support resources are so effective. We celebrate life. Stop by and say hello. Stay the course.
  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. The lights dim, the announcer’s introduction complete, now all the stand-up comedian needs to do is be funny. We’ve all seen one bomb. Even the best have a bad night. Overcoming fear must be a prerequisite for a comedian. Comedian and author Jerry Gillies developed an excellent approach for handling fear: “Confront your fears, list them, get to know them, and only then will you be able to put them aside and move ahead.” This is very relevant advice for a lung cancer survivor. I practiced a broader form of writing down fears by producing a journal of treatment experiences. I still re-read that journal to keep connected to my treatment. While I read the entire entry, I concentrate on what I was afraid of. So in a broader sense, I practiced Jerry Gillies' sage advice and benefited from it. The power of writing down fearful things is important because my fear quickly morphed into a monster by spawning a multitude activities that I may or may not have been frightened by. For example, chemotherapy infusions were frightful events — at least that is the way my journals in early treatment read. But was the entire infusion process frightening? What I was afraid of was installing the IV, not the stick, but the wiggle to find the right place to situate the device. An irrational fear because wiggling generates a mild discomfort but in my mind, wiggling is enduring torture. I have this mental picture of being strapped to a chair for interrogation while nurse-after-nurse “sticks and wiggles” on every extremity. Just last week during a blood draw, the head phlebotomist had to pin me to the chair because I was “going down” during the procedure. A quick application of smelling salts saved the day! Following Gillies’ advice, I would write down “wiggle” on my list of fears. Getting to know my fear of wiggling produced some ways to put it aside and move ahead. My first way was Xanax. One mg of Xanax about 30 minutes before a procedure and IV installs are a piece of cake. Another way is to tell the nurse ahead of the procedure that I have a phobia and not to wiggle; pull it out and try another vein. Another journal reveal is fear of pain caused by lung cancer progression. Reading disclosed metastasizing tumors invading my spinal chord causing excruciating pain. My oncologist dismissed this by explaining palliative radiation and hospice care. Thus, I was able to put this fear aside and continue on. A lung cancer diagnosis is the most frightening event in my life, treatment is a close second, and recurrence follows. Lung cancer trumps everything else I deal with. But, I learned to face this fear. Writing about fear helps me understand it and deal with it. Jerry Gillies’ approach works. Stay the course.
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