I remember the exact moment as if it were yesterday. I was out for dinner with friends when my cell phone rang. It was my doctor from Massachusetts General Hospital. I thought it was strange for him to call me at night. “Dave, it’s Lee. You need to come in to see me. We found a tumor on your lung.” My world stopped. I was a young, healthy, 34-year-old nonsmoker with 5, 3, and 1 year old boys. This news stopped me dead in my tracks. If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, or if a loved one has, you know EXACTLY what I felt.
It had started with a bout of pneumonia a year prior. Initially I thought it was just because I had been working long hours and was worn down, exposed to the many germs my kids brought home from school. But then I got pneumonia twice more, months later. Again we thought it was just due to being worn down and tired. But then a radiologist noticed on chest X-rays that the infection was in the same location all 3 times, so he recommended a CAT scan. That phone call I got from my doctor was the result of the CAT scan – and I am forever grateful for that radiologist making the connection and suggesting further investigation. Most people who get lung cancer don’t show symptoms until the cancer is very advanced. I was lucky.
My life was forever changed. There were appointments with respiratory specialists, more scans, visits with thoracic surgeons, and lots of time to ask, “Am I going to die?” I ultimately met an amazing thoracic surgeon named Doug Mathisen. He told me that the best course was to remove half of my left lung – a lobectomy. That sounded pretty awful, but I was ready to get this cancer out of my body. The anxiety was making it difficult to focus at work, and nothing mattered more than fighting for my life. After the lobectomy came months of treatment and painful recovery; it is a very long process. I kept telling myself, “Take it one day at a time…one hour at a time…one minute at a time.”
I am so thankful for my wife Missi who helped take care of me while keeping things together for our family. The lung cancer experience made me see the world differently. I am a cancer survivor, and to this day I am a passionate advocate for cancer research. I’ve learned how lucky I was that my lung cancer was not as aggressive as most. I now live a life full of gratitude. At the same time, I have lost friends to non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). One of them, a close friend, died one month after his diagnosis. I have been called the “Cancer Research Evangelist” because I am a passionate advocate for research to help find a cure for this deadly disease.