Published: Oct. 19, 2007
Updated: Sept. 16, 2010
In the spring of 2001, I started having symptoms of what we thought was pneumonia. After several rounds of antibiotics, things didn’t clear up, so my general practitioner suggested I see a pulmonary specialist.
In October 2001, they did a CAT scan done and a bronchoscope. Then I got the call that you never forget. “We ran through all the tests, and you’ve got lung cancer.’” The non-small cell lung cancer was already at stage four. It was quite a shock.
I knew I needed to see an oncologist quickly, and the Duke oncologist who was recommended to us had a full schedule, so they suggested I see a new physician on the staff, Dr. Dunphy. We went to see him, and he was very good.
He did the obligatory run through the statistics. He was very up front and said that most patients with the kind of lung cancer that I had didn’t survive more than a year.
But, he said, there are lots of things that we can do. He ran me through a PET scan and bone scan, and we discovered that, in addition to the tumors in my lung, there were a couple of tumors in the vertebrae in my back.
We immediately started a chemo regimen of Taxol® and Carboplatin, and I tolerated the first chemo treatment pretty well. Then, when they hooked me up for the second treatment, I went into anaphylactic shock.
After that episode we switched to a different set of chemo drugs and things went a little smoother. I also got radiation treatment for the tumors on my vertebrae.
My wife, Pat, was trained as a nurse, and she came with me to all of the doctor’s appointments and was very involved. She and I and Dr. Dunphy and Karen Dukelow had many, many discussions about what the next steps should be.
Often, Dr. Dunphy would have a suggestion, and Pat would throw something into the mix, and between all four of us we’d come up with a plan to move forward. We really worked together as a team.
We had talked several times with Dr. Dunphy about the pros and cons of removing the bad lung. He made us aware that this was not the standard treatment for someone in my condition, however, based on my general state of health and the fact that my other lung was completely normal we felt I might benefit from this procedure.
So after lots of discussion, I went ahead and had my right lung removed. Dr. Dunphy suggested that we then go ahead with some additional chemotherapy, which we did, and things looked pretty good. But we still needed a longer-term plan to try to prevent further tumor development.
All this time I was getting scans about every three to four months to check progress. I had had my fill of chemo, so we started looking for alternative treatments. Dr. Dunphy recommended trying Iressa, a daily pill. I got into a clinical trial and started that last April.
But a few months later, I started having some pain in the lower part of my right leg which turned out to be cancer. Then some additional tumors appeared in my lower spine. Since these tumors arose while I was still on Iressa, we figured the drug wasn’t working for me, so we stopped that and I got radiation treatment for those spots instead.
Dr. Dunphy then switched me over to Thalidomide, also a daily pill, which I’m on now. Since I’ve been on it, we haven’t picked up anything new. I’ve been back at work on a full-time basis for quite some time now.
I think the combination of having good medical advice and a lot of prayer support has been helpful.
Dr. Dunphy has looked at me as an individual, not as just a statistic. He’s not afraid to try new things. Obviously when you get into a situation like this you try to learn as much as you can, and he always listens to what we have to say and works with us.
In addition, Pat and I have a lot of faith, and there have been a lot of folks who have prayed for us. I’m a positive person, and I generally have a pretty good attitude and sense of humor, and I think that helps.
Going through a life-threatening experience puts things into a different perspective. Most people sort of take life for granted, then something like this happens and you realize what a thin thread we all are hanging on. It caused me to stop and think about not taking anything for granted, taking every day as it comes. It’s an eye opener.
I remember the day we found out that Erik didn’t have pneumonia -- it was, of all things, lung cancer, in a man who never smoked a cigarette in his life. By the time it was caught it was at stage four. When the love of your life is diagnosed with a horrible case of cancer, the world as you know it just changes, and it’s not the same ever again.
Dr. Dunphy gives us the facts, but also realistic hope. He listens to our ideas and makes you feel like he’s in it with you. We’ve said we want to do everything we can to fight this, and he has not left any stone unturned.
Even within all the turmoil and shock and everything that you go through, there are blessings: kind words and people you would never have met if it weren’t for this. It’s wonderful to know that so many people really care about you. You just have to learn to enjoy the moments that you have. There are big breakthroughs every day, and you feel like if you can hang on, something will come around. For us, that’s what has been working -- keeping the faith.