One of the Few

Seven. S.E.V.E.N. 7. SEVEN!!!!!
It’s officially 7 years since I received my preliminary diagnosis of lung cancer.

“Ms. Cutlip, the results of your X-ray are in. You have a very large mass on your left lung. Due to the size and location of the mass there’s little doubt that it’s cancer. We are going to admit you and do some diagnostic testing. ”

That’s pretty much how the initial conversation went. The rest of our visit was comprised of what could be done short term to make me comfortable while they found me a room.  As I’d been sitting in the Emergency Room for over 8 hours I asked for and received a sandwich (turkey-dry) delivered by the doctor himself.
Did I need anything else?, he wanted to know. I asked for a favor. I could see him stealing himself for a question he didn’t want to hear or answer.

“Could I get a nicotine patch?”

That caught him by surprise, he told me most patients requested a moment to go outside and have a last cigarette. He could not recall the last time, if ever, a patient asked for a patch first. When he told me that he said “with that kind of thinking going in you may be one of the few that go on to beat this.”

It never would have occurred to me that someone could survive lung cancer.

The following week was a blur of tests, 2 needle biopsies (one lower left, one upper right), a CT, bone scan, MRI of the brain, a power port placement, pulmonary function test. The PET test necessitated a vaginal ultrasound and a thyroid biopsy. Through it all I hoarded the ER doc’s parting words…”you may be one of the few…..”.

There’ve been many milestones in the past 7 years.  The two that meant the most to me were at 2 years and again at 5 years.  At two years the probability that I might live 5 years went up exponentially. At that time the five year survival rate for stage 4 patients was 1%. … of the few…..   At five years the survival rate for stage four doubled to 2%. In the last two years it’s more than doubled to about 4.6%. I remain “ of the few..” but our numbers grow. Too slow.  Much to slow.

Tonight I cherish the memory of that doctor’s words even as I recall the dread I felt when he delivered that diagnosis.  These pictures are some highlights of the past seven years.


You bet I’m celebrating but I do not forget for a moment that my story is unique. Every day 433 people die from lung cancer. 433. That’s a jumbo jet filled with passengers falling out of the sky every day. Lung cancer is a national emergency. Please join me and my friends in Washington, DC on November 2 for the Life and Breath Rally.  This is a grass roots effort and is being held independent of any formal organization. We are looking for equity in research funding.  Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer yet it receives the least funding of the top 4 cancer killers.  No one deserves cancer.


10 thoughts on “One of the Few

  1. I am going on 18 months since my Stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis and 5 years since stage 1 diagnosis. I agree that breast cancer gets so much more in publicity and funding. We need better marketing! Thank you for insight but most people can’t get the funds or energy to go to a rally.


    1. Jeanette, I’m grateful to you for sharing your story. Most of us are on fixed incomes and cannot afford travel. I’m fortunate that I’ve friends going there and friends who live there giving me a place to stay. Please know that you can support us by reaching out to your Congressional Reps and Senators and tell them this is an epidemic and we need better funding. The link I gave should show you how. Very sorry for your reoccurrence. I send hope that your treatment kicks some serious cancer patootie.


  2. Dear Denise,


    I love, love your survival story. I have always enjoyed your sense of humor. Keep the inspiring stories coming and giving hope to other cancer patients.




    1. Celia,
      You have always inspired me and your writing and point of view have brought me pleasure these past few years. So much so that I tried to channel you when writing about the Bucket List. Part of it was an homage.


  3. Wow, So glad you shared your story! I am slowly getting around to having some good days & I am able to write. My passion for writing diminished 2 years ago with my diagnosis. I have so much to write about this dreadful disease and it’s domino effects. You definitely inspire me to continue taking every moment one day at a time. Blessings!


    1. Lupita- these diseases rock our whole world. When it’s time, I believe you will find a new voice and be able to write about life with a new eye, a new point of view. Don’t rush it. It will find you.


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