David, now 58, credits an auto accident with saving his life when a post-accident exam turned up lung cancer in an early stage. After surgical removal of a part of his lung, he is attempting to get back his normal life. Here, he shares his story.
What was your first sign that something was wrong? What symptoms did you experience?
I experienced no symptoms at all. If I hadn't been involved in an auto accident, I believe I would never have known I had cancer until it was too late.
What was the diagnosis experience like?
At first, of course, they weren't looking for cancer. The shoulder belt in my car had caught me in the neck and left a little hematoma there. In the course of checking that out, the doctor recommended a CT scan of my neck and upper chest. This in turn revealed a 3 cm lump in my right lung, which they determined to be stage 0 cancer.
What was your initial and then longer-term reaction to the diagnosis?
I was no more surprised at first than my doctor was—he was so sure he'd made a mistake that he insisted on repeating the CT scan at no charge. It wasn't until the report from the needle biopsy came back positive that it really hit me like a bomb. My wife and I just held hands and prayed. Since then, though, I've come to be grateful that I had that car wreck. My doctor tells me that if we hadn't found the tumor that way in August, it would have been the size of a baseball by December and I'd have been in trouble. I think this was God’s way of giving me a chance.
How is lung cancer treated?
My daughter is a radiologist at a respected clinic about 100 miles from where we live, and she was able to get me an appointment with a good thoracic surgeon, who removed the affected part of my lung. I was playing golf again less than 2 months after the surgery. The pain following my surgery was horrific, though, worse than I could ever have imagined, and I have continued to take Vicodin for pain when I need it. I did not have chemotherapy or radiation.
I've also experienced some pretty severe depression since my surgery, with bouts of unexplained crying, weight loss, and trouble sleeping. I was afraid that if I went to sleep, I wouldn't wake up again, so I'm on a daily dose of trazodone. I've tried going without it, but I don't think I'm ready yet.
Did you have to make any lifestyle or dietary changes in response to lung cancer?
Once I was back on the golf course I figured it was time to get back to work—I was a manager at an electronics store—but the fatigue from the long commute and the work hours themselves proved to be too much to handle; I retired not long after my surgery.
Did you seek any type of emotional support?
There isn't a support group nearby, but my sister, who had breast cancer years ago, has a masters degree in social work and has helped me deal with a lot of the issues that have arisen. The members of my church have been wonderful to us, too, so I've had a lot of spiritual support. When I got back from the hospital, I found over 250 e-mails of support, some from people I didn’t even know. I'll tell you, I went through a whole box of tissues before I finished reading all of those!
Does lung cancer have an impact on your family?
It has been especially hard on our daughter. Since she works in the cancer field, she knows a lot, and is having a hard time thinking of the disease as it affects me. And my wife has been loving and constant. When I was having a really hard time she was always there, but showed no distress or emotion. I finally sat her down and asked her how she was coping, and she cried then. We're getting through this together.
What advice would you give to anyone living with lung cancer?
The important thing is to learn as much as possible and to find people who are supportive. I'm still corresponding with many of the people who reached out to me after I was diagnosed, and it's a great comfort.
Interviews were conducted in the past and may not reflect current standards and practices in medicine. Talk to your doctor to learn more about how this condition is diagnosed and managed today and what treatment approaches are right for you.