I am speaking at the First Annual Breathe Free Walk to End Lung Cancer sponsored by the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society. The walk is designed to raise awareness of Lung Cancer and funding for research. Following is a transcript of my brief comments to take place before the walk.
November 6, 2016 : Opening Remarks for the Breathe Free Walk to End Lung Cancer, Fort Mill, South Carolina
I’m pretty darn happy to be here. Two years ago today, I was diagnosed with inoperable metastatic adenocarcinoma, more commonly referred to under the umbrella term of Stage IV Lung Cancer. As a relatively young non-smoker who ate healthy food and led an active lifestyle, took my vitamins and got plenty of sleep, you might imagine that this diagnosis was a bit of a surprise. But if you’ve followed my story on my blog, as I know some of you have, then you also know that when I started this journey I did so with a substantial amount of faith. That same faith is shared by the organizations sponsoring this event, and by proxy, it is shared by you who have come here today. And that is faith in modern medical science.
We all have faith in lots of things. And there are different types of faith, to be certain. Spiritual faith often plays a key role in the emotional health of patients, perhaps making it possible for them to endure difficult treatments or to remind them that there is something greater of which they are an important part. Faith in our friends and family can be essential as we worry about things we may not be able to take care of on our own, even for those of us who have a hard time leaning on others. These expressions of faith, they allow us to trust in some kind of a safety net that will be there in the event that we are pushed or slip or even jump headlong. And undergoing treatment can feel any of those ways.
My faith, as it turns out, has been well placed. I’ve had extremely good fortune, guided by chance or the universe or whatever driving force you hold dear, maybe even some secret algorithm hidden in the code that operates my insurance company’s computers. But whatever the underlying reason, I found myself on November 6th, 2014, in the company of a research scientist from the University of Southern California, my own alma mater, as he explained to me precisely what my cancer was, a little bit about what it wasn’t and a whole lot about how it might be treated. I was a possible candidate for a clinical trial that he was running. It was like serendipity, a perfect storm, just plain old good timing, but I had the right guy, right there, to get in on the latest cutting edge whatever it was going to be.
Only it wasn’t going to be particularly cutting edge for me. Turns out, I’ve got a very generic adenocarcinoma. I’d missed the window on immunotherapy trials by getting diagnosed a few months too late, and I had none of the known actionable gene mutations in my cancer to attack with targeted therapies. My choices were to wait until another trial became available, which could be many months, or opt for the existing “gold standard” approach of straight chemotherapy and see how that worked.
That research scientist from USC, by now referred to simply as my oncologist, reminded me that Stage IV generally meant that the cancer was fairly advanced. It had already spread from the lungs to several lymph nodes and my liver, possibly a kidney, and at least six different bones. Not the brain, yet, which was good. And while a few weeks might not make much difference — Christmas was just around the corner and I was really hoping for one last “normal” holiday with my wife and daughter — he did suggest that time was of the essence. I’m glad I followed his advice.
So, just weeks after narrowing my options, I was plugged into a contraption with bags and tubes, and this miraculously toxic, beautifully poisonous chemical cocktail was infused into my blood, pumped throughout my body and began doing the job it was supposed to do.
Now, it might interest you to know that I just had another infusion six days ago. I get them every three weeks. And yes, they do slow me down a bit. But they also keep me going. I can breathe more deeply now than I could two years ago. I have more energy now than I did before I began my treatment. And while I know that, in my case, chemotherapy alone is not going to completely rid me of this cancer, that knowledge still has not shaken my faith. I see new advances happening all around me and many of the medicines that were still in trials a couple of years ago are out on the market now with more on their way. It’s amazing what kind of options are available for new patients — and at some point, I am going to sample from that growing pool of options.
But not just yet. While I have faith in modern medical science, I’m also pragmatic. I know that the longer I hold out, working with a regimen that has done its job well, the more options I will have later. I’m eager to try something new, especially one of those immunotherapies that I hear have virtually no side effects, but I don’t want to jump the gun. Cancer is expensive as it is, and most of us have to play within the rules of the insurance companies, getting their approval for every change, every new medication. And clinical trials have very specific requirements of their own. I might want to qualify for one of those. Playing by the rules and sticking with my chemo as long as it is keeping my cancer in check is a win-win-win. I get to wait for potentially better drugs to hit the market, I don’t get disqualified from future clinical trials, and most importantly, I benefit from continuing a protocol that actually works. Heck, it ain’t called the “Gold Standard” for nothing.
For those of you walking with me today, thank you for being here. And to our sponsors, my extreme gratitude for helping to fund research. Awareness is great and absolutely necessary, especially as we have the opportunity to redefine what a cancer diagnosis means and share a better understanding of what cancers really are — because it isn’t just one disease and the causes aren’t always simple — but awareness is easy next to the important work being done in hospitals and universities where men and women are dedicating their lives to finding better treatments and hopefully more than a few cures.
My patrons on Patreon can listen to an audio version of the speech by clicking this link!
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. I will be walking at the First Annual Breathe Free Walk To End Lung Cancer in Fort Mill, South Carolina. You can donate to the walk, which is jointly sponsored by the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society, and funds will support research into new treatment options.
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