Our journey with lung cancer began in November 2013. My husband, Jeff, had run his fourth half marathon that fall, and I was carrying our baby. I was in my second trimester. He felt great and looked good. Jeff had no symptoms that raised a red flag that something was seriously wrong with him. Earlier that spring he had been sick for about a week, nothing severe; he didn’t even take a sick day from work. Since the spring he had a cough that lingered for a while. Eventually, it would show up only when he was laughing hard or sometimes when he got out of the shower in the morning.
We had company over one night and something made Jeff laugh. The cough then started and his best friend encouraged him to get it checked by his doctor. Jeff promptly made an appointment with his primary care physician. All of his vital signs were good. His lungs sounded clear in the doctor’s stethoscope. The diagnosis: adult on-set asthma. An inhaler was prescribed. But before Jeff left the doctor’s office, an x-ray was ordered just to make sure there wasn’t an infection or perhaps some scar tissue from an undiagnosed case of walking pneumonia. A couple of days later we received a call around 9 pm from the doctor. There was a shadow on the film in Jeff’s right lung. That’s when the CT scan was ordered.
We tried not to worry, but it was impossible. As a Type A personality, I immediately started to search for possible causes on the internet. The search results varied, but one thing that continued to show up was lung cancer.
After the CT scan, we waited a couple of days, and then Jeff received a call from the doctor. He told Jeff he wanted to see him in person and to bring his wife along. We were told Jeff had a tennis ball sized mass in his lung and that it could be an infection, but it could also be lymphoma or possibly lung cancer. After that, it was a flurry of emotions and appointments. From our first-ever visit to the cancer center to meet with a thoracic surgeon, to a bronchoscopy, to a PET scan, to a brain MRI, to a liver biopsy, to meeting our oncology team. I could barely sit through the appointments, uncomfortable from a growing belly and lightheaded from the uncertainty ahead and the medical jargon being thrown at us.
Then there was a light that started to shine amidst the darkness, a ray of hope. Jeff was positive for a genetic mutation called ALK. At the time, that meant very little to us in terms of our medical understanding. However, what we did come to comprehend was that he could take a pill to control his cancer, a pill with very manageable side effects and great efficacy for the patients who had taken it before him.
Fast-forward to today, nearly three years after Jeff was diagnosed. He’s here with us and we are so grateful. He’s enjoying our now two-and-a-half year old son, playing with him on the floor every night after work. He’s watching our oldest son run cross country meets and our middle son practice his golf swing.
Our journey has not been easy. There have been difficult decisions along the way: treatment changes, radiation, a scheduled craniotomy that was cancelled at the last minute, side effects, and sorrow. As Jeff’s primary caregiver, I have experienced perpetual grief since his diagnosis. I’ve gone from not knowing if he would see the birth of our son, to now wondering how many more anniversaries we will celebrate together and how many other family milestones will include him.
Trials and tribulations aside, our lives are now more meaningful. We have a profound appreciation for our love, our family, and our life. And whether we walk this journey for another month or another decade (or more!), we walk it because we have love in our lives, God in our lives, and the medical advances to treat this disease. Jeff is a survivor, or maybe he’s better described as a thriver. And there are many more people like him that are thriving thanks to new lung cancer treatment options and clinical trials. That’s a ray of hope if I’ve ever seen one.