Lung Cancer Survivor and my experience at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital

Age 71 and a lifetime full of stories to tell.

My early life and defeating alcoholism

I fought alcoholism early in life and survived it. I served in the United States Navy and became a positive person; the experience gave me hope for a better tomorrow. I smoked cigarettes 30 years ago, a major factor in lung cancer. While serving onboard the USS Forrestal I slept right under the #2 catapult. The entire compartment shook when a jet was launched, and asbestos particles would rain down from the ceiling. I was 3 blocks from the World Trade Center on 9/11 and had to walk by the burning towers to get home. Or maybe it was something else? It didn’t matter, I had lung cancer.

Content with my life

A few years ago I told my daughter, if I die tomorrow, don’t feel sorry for me because I have done everything in life I wanted to do and it has been a great run. I had an exciting career in Information Technology and traveled all over the world. I enjoyed excelling at business and computers. I retired and became a high school teacher; it’s by far, the best job I have ever had. It’s even more exciting than working on the Forrestal flight deck; I respect and love all of my students.

I was always healthy and never bothered seeing a doctor. I didn’t think I would get cancer. Now I realize how cancer affects patients, family members, friends, and other survivors. And everyone has a story.

I didn't think I would get cancer

My cancer story started with changes in my physical condition which got progressively worse. My ankles were swollen and I had pain in my lower legs, and it kept getting more severe. On Saturday I went about my routine, in pain. Sunday, I couldn’t get out of bed to watch the NFL playoffs. On Monday morning, Martin Luther King Day 2019, my wife took me to the emergency room.

My chest x-ray showed a nine-centimeter tumor in my left lung. I remember seeing my wife cry and it broke my heart. I knew that lung cancer was very serious, but the pain in my lower legs was so bad at the time, I felt the lung tumor was something I would deal with later.

That evening Dr. Roy Oommen told me I had a nine-centimeter neuroendocrine tumor contained in the left lung. He believed with radiation and chemotherapy, the potency of the tumor could be reduced and then surgically removed. Dr. Oommen’s explanation made me believe I had a chance to survive cancer. And he was right about everything from that first day. I never doubted his prognosis and I just believed I was going to live.

Multiple treatment sessions

I had 25 radiation treatments, with weekends off, and I have a diploma to prove it. I had multiple chemotherapy sessions. All at NYP Hudson Valley Hospital. A decade ago I would have had to go to other locations for treatment: one center for radiation, another for chemo, still another for doctor visits. Instead, I could get one treatment here, while waiting for another one. I am very appreciative of the services and treatment I received from the Emergency Room, Intensive Care Unit, Dr. Mark Stoopler’s Infusion Department, and Dr. Lawrence Koutcher’s Radiation Oncology Department. I was treated with courtesy and respect by everyone and they listened to me whenever I needed help; my call button was always answered. The doctors, nurses, and staff were attentive, supportive, and always explained things in a way I could easily understand. Thank you for being you.

Since my sobriety, I have been thankful for every day of my life; because I have one. And even though cancer was not the life I wanted, there is always something to be thankful for. I had my wife, daughter, pets, sister, brother, friends, and my students to be thankful for. And they were my motivation to kick cancer’s ass.

The radiation, chemotherapy, and tumor drained my energy and my hair fell out (what’s the most expensive haircut in the world? Chemo). I had a walker and I didn’t even want to use it. The cancer was killing me.

A gentle nudge to push through the pain

A physical therapist came to the house and encouraged me to move. I knew I had to use it or lose it. I read the book “Can’t Hurt Me” by a Navy Seal, David Goggin, and it inspired me to push through my pain and prepare for surgery, one day at a time. In Navy Seal training, all you have to do to quit is just ring the bell. Don’t ever ring the bell.

My positive attitude makes me an “I can” and “I will” type of person. I had no other options, so I repeated the affirmations to myself through treatments, doctor visits, and whatever else came my way.

When the radiation and chemo fog began to lift, I began to feel good because the tumor was dying. The next hurdle was lung surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Columbia.

My gratitude to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital

My wife and I arrived at NYP Columbia on Sunday night for a Monday 5:30 am surgery call. We stayed in the 9th-floor accommodations with an amazing view of Lower Manhattan. The state-of-the-art building is sparkling new. In the morning we took the elevator down to the 3rd floor and I walked to surgery for the 5-hour operation. I really don’t remember anything about that day. But the next day, I was great! My head was clear, I wanted to walk, and the tumor was gone! My mid-section was numb and painful, but all I had to do now was recover from the major trauma.

I spent 5 days recuperating in a world-class facility and I am proud to have been a patient at the number one hospital in New York!

Today, I am here because of the high-quality care and service I received at New York-Presbyterian Hudson Valley and Columbia Hospitals. Your dedicated, professional, compassionate and friendly staff saved my life. I want to thank all of you!

A positive attitude contributes to enriching my life

I also believe you beat cancer by how you live and why. My mission in life has been to make the world a better place and to be kind to everyone. Cancer didn’t change that. Living that way enriched my life before I got sick and makes me even more dedicated to kindness since you saved my life.

You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control the way you handle it. When it rains, look for rainbows. When it’s dark, look for stars. It may be hard to find your silver lining during a cancer diagnosis, but it’s there. If you look for it, you will find it.

But never give up. Never, ever give up.

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