I’m not one for big celebrations as a rule. Never have been. Birthdays come and go with barely a nod. Parties…well, let’s just say I am just as happy to stay in and watch a good movie or read a book most of the time. But, when something really meaningful comes along, well, it makes the utmost sense to me to remember it in a big way. You know, something quite special. Fifty years of marriage…med school graduation…100 years of life…five years of surviving stage 4 lung cancer.
Yes, in lung cancer years, five is like 100 healthy person years. You see, for stage 4 lung cancer patients, only about 4% survive for five or more years beyond initial diagnosis. In fact, about 50% who are diagnosed at stage 4 die within the first year.1 So, it is only natural to set benchmarks as we go along and hope we’ll “make the cut.”
I was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small-cell lung cancer on November 28, 2012. While I obviously had cancer in my body before my day of diagnosis, this is the starting point (DX date) all cancer patients use, for it is a major day in our lives. Some set family goals. They may want to live long enough to see a child graduate, see a grandchild born, or to finish caring for an elderly parent’s final days or months. For me, a single person, my goals were, in a sense, more basic. I just wanted to hit numbers. First, I wanted to see if I could or would beat the median one-year mark.
I came to realize at that first-year mark, that a federal Thanksgiving holiday had apparently been originated with me in mind by Abraham Lincoln way back in 1863, and even before him, though unofficial at the time, by George Washington.2 So, each and every year, I don’t just give thanks for my friends and family and God’s gracious provision for another year, but I offer my most profound thanks for another year of life itself. Another year of opportunity to advocate, educate and hopefully inspire others in a way that will benefit future lung cancer patients, caregivers, researchers and clinical providers.
A Milestone Worth Celebrating
Five years is, in cancer terms, sort of the holy grail of survival statistics. Everyone aims to reach five years. In fact, in many instances, physicians declare patients cured once they pass the 5-year mark, even though I would venture to guess that most patients never lose the abiding concern of relapse at some point down the road. Still, this anniversary is a big deal. It is a time that, even for we party-poopers, deserves celebration.
Since my diagnosis, I have never been without notable evidence of cancer in my body. I have, however, been treated successfully and continue living a good life, even with all the bumpy patches along the way. Now, as we approach that “big” 5-year cancerversary, I’m going to tell you a little secret. I really would love to be the guest of honor at a surprise party to celebrate such a momentous event. It would be lovely to know that people recognize all the hard work that goes into living with and being treated for lung cancer.