My name is Rick, I am 54 years old and I am a lung cancer survivor. Stage III A small cell carcinoma. My journey began in June 2011 with a calcium stone in my salivary gland, 2 dentists, ENT and radiologist found nothing, when my tongue was swollen to where I could not swallow or breath I was sent to the ER. The surgeon found the stone and drained my neck. Infection from Strep B spread to my shoulder, again another ER visit where a chest X-ray was done. A small black spot was found in my upper left lobe of my lung. After surgery to remove the infection and 6 weeks of IV therapy, I met my pulmonologist who told me I more than likely had cancer. He did a bronchoscopy and said I did not have cancer. He then ordered a breathing test and a PET scan. The PET scan indicated I had cancer and I was told Stage 1, remove the one centimeter mass and we would be done.
I met with the surgeon who would remove the lung and he described the procedure and the possibility of removal of the lobe that he would biopsy during surgery and make that decision. When I woke up in the ICU I was informed my large upper left lobe had been removed. I met a nurse navigator in my room, she informed me I had Stage III A lung cancer and 7 of 10 lymph nodes had cancer. This was a difficult story to hear and I was distraught at best from hearing you have Stage III A cancer, not Stage I. I asked her to leave the room immediately. I did not accept the news. After much thought, I called the next day and asked her to come back and we talked at length.
I met with my oncologist who described what his treatment plan was going to be, I asked about a second opinion and the hospital did have a team of doctors, surgeons and radiologists who did meet with me for a few hours and discussed their findings and course of action which differed from my oncologist. After a discussion we were going to follow the panel’s recommendation, he told me it was much harder to go through so we went with his original plan. 4 rounds of chemo, Cisplatin and Alimta every 4 weeks. I did not suffer many of the side effects that I had read about; the nausea from watching a food commercial surprised me as did the smells of food and the lack of taste. The first 3 treatments were easy, the 4th one did kick me to the curb.
I posted my journey on Facebook to share with others. When I initially posted I mentioned Stage 1, did not want to use the cancer word. I was surprised at the quick response of many friends who were in fact survivors of many forms of cancer, none were lung cancer. I learned that cancer is much larger than I could imagine and was blessed with a support network of friends and total strangers and the prayer support that I received. I asked a friend Daphne to attend the second opinion and listen as I was too busy asking questions, she went to all my treatments and drove me to my appointments, and she is a true blessing to my life! I chose to openly share my story, I am not a victim, and I am a survivor who with a positive attitude decided I want to see my grandsons in grade school graduate from high school and college. I made the decision to live my life fully and have been told I compress 5 days into 1 and I do, I must accomplish something every day.
Being divorced, I found dating to be a very awkward process; I would mention lung cancer right up front, no secrets, put it in the open. Some responses were shocking, great smile and personality and you are dieing! I tell people that lung cancer is not a communicable disease and I am doing fine. Being an avid photographer of nature, I love to climb and photograph waterfalls on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest. My doctors had told me I would not be able to do that any longer. 2 weekend trips of 4 waterfalls and 6 mile hikes at 4700ft later I did some happy dances and I did hug some trees along the way, but I DID IT! My oncologist was concerned with how fast I ascended and to what altitude. My second CT scan shows cysts in my lungs and some are hardening, not sure if that was from the exertion and altitude. Oncologist said you are cancer free BUT and he could not interpret the 2nd CT report and my endocrinologist read it and had no clue what the Radiologist was stating. The oncologist and pulmonologist conferred and I was told to see the oncologist in 6 weeks. Not having an answer is very frustrating. I always have a smile on my face, I often cry inside, but I have a second chance at life, I am living it and pushing harder than I should.
I have had many calls from my insurance company cancer nurses and a social worker who have tried to help with resources. For being the most common form of cancer, there does not seem to be much available to inform you about the disease. My oncologists report said I have 39 months to live, I have challenged him every time we speak. He said I could live to 90 with my attitude and desire to live. The local cancer resource center had no materials on lung cancer and when I asked my doctor for patients he might have treated that I could speak with resulted in silence. The expenses are overwhelming, and missing work for 6 months were hard. I have been blessed with a network of friends that were concerned and were waiting for my CT results which I share. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do live for today, tomorrow will get here soon enough, the past is a lesson. After 2 scans I am cancer free, I have made positive changes in my life and attitude, I want to inspire others to do what you want to do in life. You have a second chance, take advantage of it!
Cancer has taught me to have Faith in God, Trust, Compassion and that you must become flexible and adaptable in life. I have been blessed with support, friends known and unknown and I pay it forward and help others and am open and share freely. I am neither embarrassed nor ashamed for having cancer, it has made me stronger, and I am a SURVIVOR! Be Positive in your Attitude, it is Power!