The End…Not So Fast There!

Here we go again.  I’m back at the Cancer Center for another infusion of Opdivo.  I’ve been doing the Opdivo thing for over 2 yrs. now.  Doctor Ofori says I’ll be on Opdivo for as long as I can tolerate it.  The infusion is clear as gin and I sometimes wonder if there really is a drug in there.  Opdivo goes for a truly absurd, outrageous amount per pop, which would be an expensive scam if it was one.

In early May of 2016 I developed a cough and felt run down.  My first wife had passed away less than 2 months before. The people at work had become very protective and when the cough didn’t go away they stayed on me to see a doctor.  Two doctor visits later and they had changed my prescription to potent antibiotics and steroids.  I was admitted to intensive care in the cardiac unit on the 3rd visit.  Five months earlier I had triple bypass surgery and my primary care physician thought I was suffering from congestive heart failure, indicated by the lining around my left lung filling with fluid.

When I did the research, an infection, lung cancer, and congestive heart failure were the main suspects.  What’s the chance of coming down with something as bad as lung cancer right after my first wife passed?  Maybe in a movie but not real life.  Maybe not even in a movie, people don’t make things like that up.  I put cancer out of my mind.

I had well over a liter of fluid removed from the pleura around my left lung.  I still had a wheeze but the coughing subsided.  I was at work on the next Tuesday when I received a call from my primary care physician informing me he was sorry, but the tests on the fluid from around my lung indicated non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).  Adenocarcinoma was the type.

A PET scan showed cancer in my left lung, in the left pleura, and a lesion on my right chest wall and one in my intestines.  All the lymph nodes in my body cavity and neck were lit up. 

On the first visit to my Oncologist, he said I would never be in remission but he intended to treat the cancer like a chronic disease.  I took it, reading between the lines, that the goal was to buy me a little more time.

My first wife had set a sterling example of how to face a daunting diagnosis.  I only hoped that I could live up to the example she had set.  One thing I was sure of, God would be right there with me and my 2 sons through this.  After it was all over, I would be with Jesus wondering why people fear death so much, considering we have the rest of eternity in heaven to look forward to.

I remember one particular weekend with friends and family at my house with them cooking a big dinner while I was laying on the couch after a particularly rough bout of chemo.  “What have I done to deserve this?” I asked God.  If you had to go, surrounded by family and friends with all this love was certainly the way to do it.

I did 6 rounds of Carboplatin, Taxol, and Avastin.  The PET scan ¾ of the way through the chemo showed remarkable improvement.  Diagnosed in June, the chemo finished in November, and the February PET scan showed no signs of metastatic activity.  For a while at least, I was cancer free!

The big problem with cancer is that it usually comes back.  Doctors don’t claim to cure certain types of cancers.  Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer (NCLSC) being one of them.  Statistics show that if the NSCLC has spread to a distant part of the body away from the lung, there is a less than 1% chance that the patient will survive 5 years.  If the cancer hasn’t spread to a distant part of the body, you have a whopping 4% chance of 5 year survival.  But with Opdivo, a new drug that works with your own immune system, patients get more progression free time.  Early reports indicate perhaps a 15%, 5 year survival rate.  That doesn’t sound like good odds until you compare it to less than 1%, 5 year survival rate pre-Opdivo.

In May I’ll be into this 3 years.  I’ve had one recurrence in a lymph node in my abdomen that doctors knocked out with radiation 6 months ago. 

I’m coming up on another PET scan. 

I have a good quality of life although I’ve slowed down considerably compared to where I was pre cancer.  I’m remarried to an exceptionally, remarkable lady and am as happy as I’ve ever been.  Read some of the other stories on this website.  I’m not rolling in the dough but we have enough money for us to do a little traveling, to hunt and fish around the house, and travel to the mountains of West Virginia a few times a year to our hunting camp there. 

Yes, I’m apprehensive every time a PET scan comes up and I’m not anxiety free about my health.  But worry doesn’t rule my life.  I can’t go on indefinitely on my savings but then I don’t intend to live forever.  God is good!  Life is good!

I used to hate when a healthy person told me no one is promised tomorrow, although I know it’s true.  So the next time you hear of someone with a horrible diagnosis and you get a chance, tell them about a guy you read about who is having the time of his life after being diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer – and is still going strong 3 years later.  Encourage them to look at the diagnosis as a wake up call, to wake up and live life to the fullest! 

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