Life couldn’t have been any better in early 2016. My wife, Jen, and I had just celebrated the birth of our daughter, Grace. I had an amazing wife and a perfect little girl. To put a cherry on top the Denver Broncos had just won the super bowl. Jen and I, like all new parents, were navigating the uncharted waters of parenting. Trying to figure out all the little things like how do we get Grace to sleep through the night and is she eating enough? We were also making plans for our future with our new baby. Picking out a daycare, setting up her college fund, determining how may siblings she’d have and how close in age we wanted them to be. Then all those questions and plans were put on hold.
In February of 2016 I began to have vision problems; my peripheral vision had gotten very blurry. Your vision is nothing to mess around with and I have never had any vision problems before so I scheduled an appointment with an eye doctor right away. After a routine exam the eye doctor told me everything looked good but he wanted me to come back next week for some more testing. This led to an additional vision test that led to a brain MRI. The MRI showed multiple tumors throughout my brain. The radiologist was confident that the tumors looked metastatic so we had to find out where they were coming from which led to a CT scan. The CT scan revealed that I had a mass in my lung. After a biopsy it was confirmed that I had stage 4 Non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) adenocarcinoma. This was very unexpected and hard to understand. I was a healthy 32-year-old man. I had been getting annual physicals for the past 5 years, the last one being in November of 2015 only a few months before my first symptoms. On top of that I had just had a life insurance physical in December of 2015 and was classified as a young healthy non-smoker.
While we waited for more information we did what everyone does these days, we turned to the Internet. That was not a great idea. If you research Stage 4 lung cancer the survival rates are not good. I think the first thing I read was that the median survival rate (the time at which 50 percent of patients are alive and 50 percent of have passed away) was only eight months and that the 5-year survival rate was only 4%. Most people who are diagnosed with lung cancer are Stage 4, which makes it very difficult to treat. It’s known as the silent killer because so many people do not have signs or symptoms of lung cancer until it is already in a later stage. I may have had signs earlier like coughing a little more or not breathing as well when working out, but I chalked it up to allergies and not being in as good of shape as I once was.
Once we were able to meet with my Oncologist, he educated us about lung cancer and told us to stop consulting with Dr. Google. He made sure we understood that I was not a statistic. He also shared that they found an abnormal genetic mutation called ALK in my biopsy. He explained that this was a very good thing, because it gave us more options for treatment. After the appointment I started radiation and thus my battle with cancer began.
For most of my treatment I have been on 2 different targeted therapies, which are amazing medicines. Even though they do not cure cancer they can keep it at bay for a little while. Targeted therapies are fairly new and with more research hopefully there will be more.
It has been a year and a half since I was diagnosed and overall things have gone ok with a few bumps in the road. There have been surgeries, radiation and multiple medications but with the help of my faith, family and medical team we continue to fight this disease.
As any cancer survivor can tell you it’s not an easy battle, you have your good days, bad days and hard days. It’s an emotional roller coaster for you and the people around you. There are ups and downs that you can’t really explain to anyone. Every major decision that you make has to take in the fact that you have a terminal illness.
I am on some great medication, but this won’t last forever. It has become a mission of mine and Jen’s to increase the awareness of lung cancer and to raise funds for lung cancer research. We are happy to be able to team up with the Chris Draft Foundation to support this cause. 80% of the money we raise goes to a fund of our choice. Jen and I have chosen the Colorado Lung Fund at UC Health. This fund is leveraged to support many different needs of the University and UCH’s combined fight against lung cancer. We are raising funds specifically for clinical and translational research in hopes of creating more treatment options for everyone suffering from this awful disease. We very much appreciate everyone’s support in our fight against Lung Cancer.