Frances Spruit

“Cancer is a very challenging disease but it will bring fantastic people into your life that will make your life better, richer.”

I was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer on December 13, 2007, almost 8 years ago now. I was staged 1B because the tumor was confined to my right upper lobe, size 6.1×6.8×6.5 cm (the size of an apple). In my surgeon’s words, “very impressive”. Following a biopsy, my pulmonologist at the time called me and told me I had cancer over the phone. He was going on vacation and when we discussed the biopsy, I had asked him to call me as soon as he had the results. I did not want to wait to find out. After that call I met with my thoracic surgeon a few days later and had surgery the day before Christmas.

How does it feel to hear you have cancer? My initial reaction to cancer came before the actual diagnosis. My GP had ordered an X-ray and the radiology report indicated a mass in my right upper lobe. She called me into her office. I asked my wife to come along and that’s when we first heard the words “possibly cancer”. I remember a sense of numbness and immediate fear of dying, soon. The days following, I spent time learning about lung cancer, mostly online. One of the first things I wanted to find out were survival statistics. I found that the five year survival rate was roughly 15%. Although I had no idea about staging and possible therapies, in my mind the only thing that mattered was clear: “how will I get in the 15% group?”

In the maelstrom of medical tests it was clear to me that the biopsy would be the confirming test to determine whether I had cancer or not. I remember wishing I had tuberculosis! The biopsy was a CT assisted fine needle aspiration, the CT technician applied a target sticker on my back and I remember noticing that he applied the sticker (about the size of a hand) on the left (wrong side) of my spine! I told him that and he admitted his mistake. I felt very anxious and that little mistake just made the procedure even more nerve wrecking. I remember being very tense and worried. At the time no one suggested a liquid biopsy.

No matter how short or long the cancer journey, make sure to surround yourself with a few people that DO and then follow their example. You can talk to many people and many will talk to you about cancer. You can attempt to research until you are exhausted from googling everything about lung cancer. What ultimately matters is what you DO to make your journey better. I loved getting visits from friends and family when I was in the hospital. Short visits but they DID something to make it better for me and my wife.  My surgeon did something interesting every time she came to check on me, which was almost daily for 2-3 weeks after surgery. She would make it a point to always ask me: “What did you do?” Most people are used to the question: “How are you?” and nothing much comes from the question or even the answer to it. After a few days I realized that the question “What did you do?” really meant “What did you do … to get better?” What it means is that I am in charge of my journey, no one else. You need people to help you but I am in charge! I have to DO something to get better. Also, anyone who spends any time or energy on dwelling on the negative aspects of cancer (and there are many) should just be quiet. Every ounce of strength and energy the patient and his immediate circle can muster will have to go to positive action. Have no patience for negativity.

Finally, there is a silver lining. Although cancer is a very challenging disease it will invariably bring fantastic people into your life that will make your life better, richer.