Love Makes the Difference for a New Hampshire Couple

A New Hampshire couple shares their unique perspectives after a husband’s lung cancer diagnosis.

By Rick Thompson

On Aug. 25, 2003, my wife Janet and I  celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary.  It was a happy time as we were surrounded  by family and friends. We decided to renew  our wedding vows and we did just that, in  the same church where we first said those  words.

Just 13 days later our lives forever changed.

On Sunday, Sept. 7th, in the early afternoon, I collapsed on our living room floor with a severe pain in my chest. I didn’t know it then, but my left lung had collapsed.

The day before I had a pain in my left shoulder. I just wrote it off as a sore shoulder. It was a hot September weekend and I sat in front of a fan while I did some work. I figured I would only be about a half hour so there was no sense in turning off the fan or moving my work.

That Sunday I was admitted to the hospital because the pain in my shoulder was pneumonia, which caused my lung to collapse. While doctors were working on that problem, I learned I had lung cancer.

You don’t hear a lot after someone says the words lung cancer while looking at you. While I have vivid memories about the events leading up to those words, the few days after hearing those words are a blur.

I am a ten-year survivor, in part because of luck – when the cancer was discovered there was still a surgical option available. I am a ten-year survivor in part because of my doctors, especially a highly skilled surgeon at the Massachusetts General Hospital. But most of all I am a ten-year survivor because of Janet. She was not about to let lung cancer take me away.

I often say it is much easier being a lung cancer victim than it is being a caregiver or family member. As a lung cancer victim, I always knew how I felt. My caregiver, my wife Janet, and my children, Shelley and Jarrod, could only ask me how I felt and then hope I would not gloss over how I was feeling at that moment.

Janet knew better. She knows that when I said everything was fine, everything wasn’t fine. After 30 years, she could read me like a book.

After my surgery, I went through chemotherapy. In the middle of that, I was ready to through in the towel. Janet would not let me quit. She pushed, and pushed and pushed until I completed chemo.

When I think about beating the odds, I often think about boxer Rocky Graziano. He beat the odds and became the middleweight champion. He called his autobiography Somebody Up There Like Me! That could be my story as well. Somebody up there sent Janet into my life. Somebody up there likes me!

By Janet Thompson

It’s been a little over ten years, and after 40 years of marriage, the words still ring in my ears, “Your husband has lung cancer.”

The long hard road began back in September 2003 when Rick was sick with pneumonia and then diagnosed with lung cancer. We were told it wasn’t operable. We decided to go to Mass General where we learned they could operate. After a couple of surgeries, his lung was removed in November and then the chemo began.

Being the caregiver for Rick, along with our best cheerleader, our daughter, as well as our son who had to provide support long distance as he was away at school, we all traveled the long road together with Rick. He got very sick from the chemo and wanted to quit. Our hearts were broken and I wished I could take away the pain from the surgery and the sick feeling he was going through.

He might have been the patient but sometimes I think it is harder on the caregiver, feeling helpless and not being able to provide the comfort or to take away the pain. I had to find a way to encourage him.

Fortunately Rick got on track and things improved.  I’m pleased to say that this past August we celebrated our 40th Anniversary in Montreal, where we had started out on our honeymoon.

Not knowing about the programs available to Rick or myself I was fortunate to have a nurse provided through the insurance company. She would check in with me a few times a week.  It was a great support system and I found it to be very encouraging.

Which brings me to Lung Cancer Alliance. The great support system they have is not just for the patient, but for the caregivers and family members as well.  It is a great feeling to be able to pick up the phone and talk with someone.

I am so very proud of Rick and all that he has been through over the last ten years and so very proud that he is a very strong advocate for people with lung cancer.  Rick spearheads the lung cancer vigils here in Nashua, N.H.  He is a telephone buddy providing support to those with lung cancer.  He provides the opportunity for people to relate to someone who has already gone through what they are facing. He provides encouragement knowing that you can survive and the road is not as hard and lonely when someone on the other end of the phone is living proof you can survive and you can do it.

Valentine’s Day is here and I am so pleased to say that I will be celebrating it with my soul mate, best friend and lung cancer survivor of ten years.