Fighting the Good Fight
I am 10 months into my fight against stage 4 Adenocarcinoma lung cancer (NSCLC). I am stage 4 as the cancer metastasized to my femur. It is a long story about my diagnosis; fair to say it was a surprise because I had no symptoms that would send me to the doctor. I got tested because I was a former smoker and am an older dad. I just thought it was the prudent thing to do. I was 55 (the age at which the insurance companies will pay for the CAT scan), the father of 9 and 11 year old boys (they are so much my incentive to fight) and the lucky husband of a woman who is championing the fight against my cancer using nutrition. The amount of self-study and newly acquired knowledge my wife brings to the table has positively improved my overall life outlook. I could write a whole story on just that one aspect.
I went to three, well-known cancer treating health systems to get different diagnoses, opinions and prognoses. Generally the same course of treatment was recommended by every oncologist. They all told me I would not survive and they would place me in palliative care, basically keep me comfortable and alive as long as possible, but not trying to cure me. I was not candidate for immunotherapy. It seems stage 4 lung cancer is cookie cutter medicine. It is the old platinum-based (carboplatin) chemo route that hasn’t changed in a long time given. To complete the cocktail, add some Pemetrexed and some Avastin. I actually chose the health system that was recommending the most aggressive chemo, understanding the risks were huge as chemo is a poison. The balance of life quality versus life quantity is a highly personal choice and changes by person.
The doctors advised I started chemo as soon as possible. They were ready to plug me into the machine and into the system. I decided to take some personal time to prepare for chemo by propping up my general health through nutrition, exercise, and stress management (including a leave from work and practicing meditation). I was always a fitness minded person. I was a jogger, swimmer, biker and skier. I enjoyed the gym and being outdoors. Unfortunately, this was the winter of 2017 and I caught whatever was going around my kids’ school. Thus I caught the worst respiratory infection of my life. I did get over that after a few weeks.
All of this effort targeting a January 2, 2018 start chemo date. I was so nervous about my chemo journey. I was downright scared of dying. I was one of the main caregivers for my mother who had lymphoma in 1988. Her chemo experience was just terrible as I watched the disease and the chemo take my mother away from me in a most undignified manner. I thought I was heading for the same. Of course, we all hear stories about how bad chemo is and the vomiting, mouth sores, nausea, etc. I was not a happy camper. Plus less than a 2-13% survival rate for 5 years (a Googled statistic) made it seem like I was losing my life. But you HAVE TO LEARN HOW TO FIGHT, and then you HAVE TO FIGHT.
I could write a lot more but this is getting long. Chemo has been quite unpleasant, but based on my life observations, it could have been so much worse. I did not vomit, even once. I have dealt with nausea and fatigue. I did not lose the hair on my head, but it thinned a little and I lost hair on various parts of my body but who cares about hair when you are talking about your life. I have had many annoying side effects, but generally not debilitating to any substantial length of time. I call it chemo-side effect whack-a-mole. Weird physical things would just pop up. I got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I had my socks on because I was feeling cold that night. When walking to the bathroom I wondered what sharp thing was in my left sock. I took my sock off and realized I lost a toenail. It didn’t hurt, but you think “how un-healthy am I to be losing toenails?”
The result to date: I completed my initial chemo course which was six treatments in 21 day intervals. Thanks to my brother who sat with me at most of my infusion sessions. They were not sure if I would be able to handle all six treatments in that time. I am now on “maintenance chemo – just pemetrexed – for the “rest of my life”. We monitor my progress with PET or CAT scans every 3 months. Each PET scan showed reduced metabolic activity in my cancerous areas – this was a “good news” clinical outcome. I am not out of danger, but am going in a good direction. Just earlier this month we actually did chest and pelvic area CAT scans and it seems the tumor in my leg is gone and my lung tumors seem to be shrinking considerably. So far, I am beating the odds and a good story.
Two primary thoughts: I firmly believe the chemo got me here, but it would have not been nearly as effective if had not changed my lifestyle, my diet, my mindset and attitude and my stress levels. If you are reading this as someone living with cancer, please do not depend ONLY on cut, poison and burn. Please at least look at what you eat. It does matter a great deal.
My second thought, while my results to date are fantastic, I know cancer is no joke and good results now guarantee absolutely nothing in the future. So I must maintain vigilance in my fight. I do give myself breaks and down time, but most of the time I am thinking what can I do to improve my health. I do not want to leave my wife and children.