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Thriving With Cancer

 

A year ago, I was the healthiest 60-something year-old person I knew.  Worked out every day; ate well; kept my weight down.  My blood work-ups from my annual physicals were suitable for framing.  Then, the bomb hit.  In October 2016, I was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer.  I had thoracic surgery, and due to the recovery from that plus the pain from the disease itself, I was on a hefty dose of opiate medications.  For the rest of that year, I was pretty much a pain-ridden, groggy-headed vegetable. 

 

Lung Cancer Death Sentence?

But, fortunately for me, that is not the end of my story, just the beginning.  For anyone who knows about this disease, my diagnosis used to be a death sentence, and frankly still is for many, many people.  I, however, had the good fortune to have tested positive for a genetic mutation that could be treated with an oral medication called Tarceva; more effective than chemo and with fewer and less severe side effects.  I started on this medication on November 1, 2016.  Before updating you on my status, let me digress just a bit.

 

My Unwanted Intimacy with Lung Cancer

It is my great un-fortune to have considerable history with lung cancer.  I held my mother’s hand 8 years ago when she took her last breath after her bout with this disease.  More recently, just 3 years ago, I held my little sister’s hand when she too succumbed to this miserable malady.  And so, now it’s my turn.  I am now 5 months into my treatment, and pretty much back into my normal life.  At the same point in time for them, my mother was dead, and my sister was desperately trying a variety of chemotherapy cocktails, to no avail.  So, what is different today?

 

The Foundations for a New Approach to Treatment

The difference today can be traced back to Richard Nixon (off all people), who declared a war on cancer way back in 1971 and funded significant research efforts to fight this war.  I never thought I’d be thanking Nixon for anything, but he has my gratitude.  The difference is also due to Craig Venter and Francis Collins, who sequenced the human genome in the early 2000s.  And, the difference is due to thousands of researchers since then who’ve utilized the foundational research that resulted from these efforts and designed whole new approaches to treatment for cancer.

When my mother was diagnosed 8 years ago, she had one option for treatment:  chemo.  When my sister was diagnosed 4 years ago, she had two options: chemo, or targeted therapy for a couple of gene mutation.  When I was diagnosed, lung cancer treatment was already in the midst of a revolution.  Chemotherapy, the go-to approach for all advanced lung cancer not that long ago, is the choice only half of the time today.  The other half of lung cancer cases are being treated by either targeted treatment (like my own), or immunotherapy, both of which are far, far superior.

So, I am the beneficiary of research.  Pure and simple.  The team of people who are caring for me at Lurie are fabulous, but it is the research that led to targeted treatments that is the key to my life.

 

Where to Next?

With a need and desire to do something with my gratitude, I spent time with Dr. Platanias, who heads up The Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, and he told me about OncoSET.  This, my friends, is research that will lead to the next revolution in cancer treatment:  PERSONALIZATION.  If you haven’t already read the summary of this effort on this page, please do.  Treatment of many diseases, cancer included, will become one-to-one.  Each of us treated for exactly our unique profile.  I believe it, but more importantly, so do those who truly know what they are talking about.  I’m in the process of sending over a hefty donation of money to jump-start the lung cancer part of this program, and am participating in the research with my own data.  I will update you on what I learn about myself through this process.

 

Thriving with Cancer?  Really?!

When I started this note, I told you that a year ago, I was the healthiest person I knew.  A year later, I am the healthiest person I know, who happens to have cancer.  It’s not SURVIVING, it’s THRIVING.  And, I have research to thank.  I can think of no better place to invest your support, so please join me in giving to this worthy effort.  Our children and their children with thank us, even if we’re not Nixon or Venter.

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Hi Chuck! I resonate with you on this, as I, too, was Stage 4 NSCLC treated with Tarceva, and am currently (after 15 months) with "no evidence of disease." I just posted my Introduction minutes ago, and agree with you - we are the lucky ones! Targeted therapy has made something that would have killed us 3 years ago something that is merely now a chronic condition that we can live with.

I LOVE your upbeat style! I am grateful, but struggle with side effects, especially wondering and worried about the long term effects of such. I guess I don't have enough to worry about! But I'd rather be upbeat, like you. Would love to stay in tough to compare notes about staying on Tarceva, or whatever targeted therapy we may have to move to if our bodies reject it after a while.

Like you, my hope is not just living and thriving with cancer, but GET RID OF IT PERMANENTLY! I am so hopeful that immunotherapy is the key - we are so fortunate to be the beneficiaries of others' willingness to do drug trials (I am on one myself, only I'm a "control" patient, not actually getting the drug). Cheers to you, Chuck!

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