No one lives with lung cancer… at least that’s what most believe. And, hey, I’m no different. So you can imagine the absolute horror and fear I felt 17 years ago when my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, especially considering that he smoked his last cigarette more than 25 years ago.
I will never forget the emotional roller coaster my family experienced the day we heard the news. My dad had actually gone to the emergency room, thinking he was having a heart attack. He was experiencing chest pains and was short of breath, so naturally he and my mom both figured it had to be his heart. The emergency room physician immediately ordered a battery of cardiovascular tests, blood work, and a chest x-ray. After assessing the diagnostics, the physician came in to see my dad and informed him that there was absolutely nothing wrong with his heart. In fact, he said, “You have the heart of a 25-year old man.” Of course, my parents were relieved, and totally unprepared for what came next. “Although your heart is in good shape,” the physician stated, “your chest x-ray revealed a spot on your left lung that needs to be checked out.” Needless to say, those words sparked fear as the first thought my parents had was… lung cancer. Subsequent visits to an oncologist did, in fact, reveal that diagnosis, with the next step being surgery to both determine the extent of the malignancy and remove whatever portion of the cancer possible.
As I, my three sisters, and mother sat in the hospital waiting area, our minds and emotions went to places no one should have to go. We were, at one and the same time, preparing ourselves for the worst case scenario, yet hoping and praying for the best. After what seemed an eternity, the surgeon finally came out to talk with us about what he had found and where we would go from here. The malignancy was contained in the lower lobe and was, in the surgeon’s words, “slow growing.” Following the biopsy, done during the surgery, they decided to remove the entire lower lobe, thereby ensuring that they “got it all.” Of course, no one I know really believes that they ever “get it all.” Nonetheless, we were cautiously optimistic and hopeful that this would be the end of the story. And, it was… My dad had no radiation, no chemotherapy, and no recurrence of the cancer… for 15 years.
Almost three years ago, my dad began experiencing what seemed to be blood pressure issues, enough so that one episode resulted in an excruciating headache that landed him in the emergency room. He was admitted and, per usual, a battery of tests ensued, including a chest x-ray. While the blood pressure issue was never fully understood or resolved, the chest x-ray revealed… you guessed it… a spot on the lung that warranted further investigation. Dad went through a number of more intensive scans and, as suspected, he was again diagnosed with cancer, this time in the right lung.
So, here we were again, 15 years later, in that same place… different time, different surgeon, different lung, same devastating emotions. Surely we couldn’t defy the odds a second time; that never happens. Once again, the oncologist confirmed that surgery was the most viable option and hope for survival. Once again, we sat in the waiting room for what seemed like an eternity, hanging onto every word, every memory, every belief, and every prayer that this too would end well, with yet another beginning, another life-giving opportunity. Once again, the surgeon reported to us that Dad’s malignancy was contained, this time in the upper lobe of the right lung, but instead of one type of cancer, he uncovered two. The surface cancer was the same “slow growing” kind of 15 years before, but the second, lying hidden beneath, was a rapidly growing, stage three cancer. Just as happened in the first round of cancer, the surgeon removed the entire upper right lobe and optimistically reported, “I think we got it all.” And just as was true 15 years before, my dad received no radiation, no chemotherapy, no ongoing treatment whatsoever.
My dad has recently been released for annual rather than quarterly or semi-annual visits to the oncologist. He has 66% of his lungs, with a 98% breathing capacity. Of course, not everyone has an optimistic outlook. For example, my dad has been told on more than one occasion, “It’s not a matter of whether this cancer will come back; it’s a matter of when.” We have no room in our lives or hearts for that kind of attitude. We’re going for broke.
A friend of mine said to me, “I’ve known lots of people with lung cancer, but no one I’ve known has ever lived… until now.” Though some would say the series of occurrences my dad has experienced are purely coincidental or “the luck of the draw,” my faith tells me something different. In both situations, my dad was admitted to the hospital for reasons unrelated to lung cancer, but these visits led to uncovering the real nemesis – that dreaded diagnosis we all fear… “You’ve got cancer.” I believe that the God I and my parents serve “prompted” my dad to seek help for his physical health and well being. And, in so doing, my dad’s life has been spared not once, but twice, from a type of cancer that generally sees no positive end. Oh, and did I forget to tell you… In between all that, my dad also had prostate cancer, which was surgically taken care of with absolutely no lingering side effects. Whew!
I believe my dad is a walking, talking demonstration of God’s grace and mercy. In the words of Zac Smith who recently lost his own battle to cancer, “This I do know; if God chooses to heal me, then God is God and God is good. If God chooses not to heal me and allows me to die, God is still God and God is still good. To God be the glory.” Why has God granted my dad these opportunities at life, even in the face of an apparent death-seeking disease? I don’t have the answer to that, but I agree with Zac; in all things, to God be the glory.