Before she was even officially staged I ran through the statistics I found on the web. This, I soon learned, was a very bad idea….
Because the statistics were terrible!!! I clearly remember reading, “Five Year Survival Rate for Stage IV Lung Cancer: 2%” and freaking out. I kept thinking–2% is a kind of milk you buy. It should not be a number representing the chance of being with your Mom in five years.
I was despondent and dismal and terrified and resolved not to tell Mom what I found.
Then I found the Lung Cancer Support Community. I read a few pages. I read a few profiles. Then I read a few more. I gravitated to the words “Stage IV.” And guess what? I found survivors. I found folks with Lung Cancer who were living “new normal” lives. I found people who didn’t give up. I found resources and information and the right questions to ask one’s doctor. And then, then I had hope. And I grabbed onto it and didn’t let go. I learned that my Mom was not a statistic and we could only wait and see what would happen in her battle.
Guess what. Even though my Mom gave her life battling Lung Cancer, I still haven’t lost that hope.
Because I learned that Lung Cancer isn’t always a death sentence. I’ve made friends at that board who are Stage III and Stage IV survivors for 1, 2, even 3 years. Some have been able to undergo surgery (this is most often not possible with late stages). Some have just kept trying treatments until they found the ones that worked, and when those treatments stopped working, theyfound another. Some have danced with our favorite guy NED (No Evidence of Disease) for quite some time. Some have continued to have cancer in their bodies, but it has remained stable and the chemo’s and therapies they’ve tried have kept things at bay.
Furthermore, I learned that if the cancer is caught at an early stage and surgery is an option survival rates climb dramatically! When the cancer can be surgically removed at an early stage the chances are better that a person can be around a long, long while. I think of my Dad’s very special friend, Shari, who has been a Lung Cancer survivor for over 12 years now!
(Incidentally, that is why it is so very important that a reliable method for screening for Lung Cancer be found, whether it’s Spiral CT scans, or a simple blood test–both possibilities in the works–or something that hasn’t even been thought of. The chance to detect the cancer before it is in the late stages is the best chance that we have to see the tide turn in this war.)
Lung Cancer is devastating and the statistics surrounding it are far lower than they should be, but it does not have to be a death sentence!
It is imperative that people begin to believe that Lung Cancer is a disease that can be fought! Why do I say this? I say it because over and over and over and over and over again we get new-comers to the boards who are late stage whose doctors have given up on them before they were even given the chance to fight. They are given words like ‘palliative treatment only’ and ‘incurable.’ Sometimes those words are the reality. Late stage Lung Cancer is considered to be incurable. But there is still a fight worth waging. There are still good days to be had, and moments to be made, and time to stretch out for as long as possible (always balancing quality of life, of course).
If so many doctors believe there is no hope…. then there are a lot of people out there who might not be treated as aggressively as they should be (Important lesson here: Always seek a second opinion!!!!). It is a sad reality that we often really have only ourselves to advocate for us. With Lung Cancer, too many times doctors are ready to throw in the towel at diagnosis even when there are promising treatments to be tried.
I am a strong believer that even with a Stage IV diagnosis there is hope for a cure, if only because with life-extending treatments–and enough of them that work–there is always the hope that one can buy enough time for them to find the kick-ass treatment that will keep the disease at bay–or even extinguish it.
Two stories to highlight:
My friend Kasey was told over two years ago that she should not expect to see the flowers bloom in the following spring. She was diagnosed with a Non-small Cell Pancoast Tumor, Stage 3A. She was told it was inoperable and incurable.
She came to LCSC and found a couple of women who had diagnoses similar to hers. They told her emphatically to seek a second opinion and even helped her get to the right docs to see. She was able to have a very successful surgery.
Kasey is over 2 years out from diagnosis with No Evidence of Disease!
Rich–one of the main coordinators of the Boston Lung Cancer Walk/Fun Run this weekend, was diagnosed in 2002 with Stage IV BAC. He was given a prognosis of 24 months. He has been through treatment after treatment after treatment…. BUT–Here in November of 2006 he put together one of the most successful fund-raising events for Lung Cancer research in history, and walked himself on top of it all!
Lung Cancer is not a death sentence. It is not an easy battle to fight, but it is one that can be fought with success. There is reason to hope. And the more hope that we can grab onto–the more people who believe that this is a disease worth fighting–the more progress we’re going to make in the quest to eradicate it once and for all.
Grab onto the hope and run with it!