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%. …..one 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 “..one 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.