By Erik Hale
When you are 30 years old the last thing you imagine hearing is that you have lung cancer but, for me, that’s exactly what happened.
I was a preschool teacher at the time I was diagnosed. I remember getting the call from my doctor during lunch hour. I heard her say, “The tests came back positive for lung cancer,” and my brain basically shut off; I felt numb. At that moment, I wasn’t upset or angry, just shell-shocked. My reply was “Alright, so what should I do now?”
Within a week I began treatment, which included a month of radiation, a couple of months of chemotherapy and finally a lobectomy to remove the lower half of my left lung. I started to learn what this disease meant for me; that my cancer was most likely terminal and I had approximately a 4% chance to live another five years. At 30 years old, what do you say when given that information? I wasn’t married, didn’t have kids and had never owned a home. Are these all milestones I would have to give up since I was diagnosed with a disease that came out of nowhere? I wanted answers and I wanted solutions, but I didn’t get much of either.
It’s a very odd and debilitating experience to have no control over your own destiny. All I could do was trust in my doctors, trust in the treatments, and, above all else, hope for the best. Hope was really what I needed. The statistics I was reading online, and hearing from my doctors, weighed heavily on my mind. When you see the likelihood of your own demise staring you in the face it can be maddening at times. My Uncle Marty, who is a physician, gave me wise advice that helped shift my perspective, “Don’t worry about the statistics because your chances are either 0 or 100 and that’s it.” It was exactly what I needed to hear at the time. What could I really do except grit my teeth and persevere? Everything else was in fate’s hands.
Hope is a strange thing. It comes in many forms. For me it came in the form of a wonderful surgeon who made sure I knew that, while my situation was dire, he was going to do everything in his power to make sure I survived. It came in the form of my co-workers, parents of my students, family and friends who raised money to help me pay medical bills and dropped meals off at my house every day of treatment. It came in the form of the Lung Cancer Alliance, advocating, and finding other survivors who understood how hard the struggle is. Most of all, it came in the form of Aloé, my girlfriend at the time who, when I came home to tell her the news of my diagnosis simply replied, “We’re getting married.” Rather than run, rather than breakdown, rather than give up, she was my rock, my support, my advocate, my dietician (to my dismay sometimes), and I truly don’t know if I would have been able to make it through without her.
As I write this, I’m now married, turning 34 next month, and my scans have been coming back clear with no detection of disease. My diagnosis and recovery changed me in many ways, specifically my perspective on life.
Let the small things roll off your back. Remind yourself that each day and every breath is truly a blessing. Surround yourself with your people, your community. Live passionately and fiercely go after your joie de vivre. And if you yourself have recently been diagnosed, or if you are experiencing any of life’s great challenges, seek hope in whatever form you can find it. It can show itself in many ways but you must leave your heart open to it and help it to find it’s way to you.