When I found out that I was sick I didn’t know a lot about cancer or treatment options. I went to see my doctor because I noticed I had been losing weight, and was told I may have emphysema. Then, on Christmas Day in 1996, I got a call from my doctor in Poughkeepsie, NY saying he needed to see me immediately. The next day I was sitting in this little room listening to him tell me that I had stage III advanced lung cancer. Nothing can prepare you for that kind of shock. I was 46 at the time and had a two-year old daughter at home.
When my doctor in Poughkeepsie told me that I didn’t have much time, it reminded me of how my niece had almost been aborted because the doctors said she would not survive. As a last hope, her parents contacted Yale-New Haven Hospital. Today, she is a healthy 24-year old. The exemplary treatment they received at Yale inspired me to take a chance as well. I was referred to Dr. John Murren, chief of the Medical Oncology Outpatient Clinic at Yale at the time, and the man that saved my life. During my 9 months of treatment he became more than a doctor to me; he was a friend.
When I came to Yale Cancer Center for my first appointment I was in a strange place where I didn’t know anyone, but it wasn’t long before I felt welcomed and cared for by everyone around me. I feel for the doctors; they give all of their energy and time into the care they provide to patients. Dr. Murren was out to find a cure for me.
After my treatment with chemotherapy and radiation my condition was like night and day; which surprised me because I had expected to need surgery. I received my last treatment in 1997, on my daughter’s birthday, and they told me to come back every year for a check-up. I told them I wanted to come every six months, so we compromised and I go every 9 months. It’s been almost ten years, and I’m still afraid of what I might hear every time I go, but I think it’s better to know.
When I found out that Dr. Murren passed away in 2005, it was almost as big a shock as finding out I had cancer. Going to see him at Yale Cancer Center is the best decision I’ve ever made, that and marrying my wife of course. People need to be aware of how technologically advanced and special the Yale Cancer Center is. I’ve brought six people there for treatment from NY since my own successful treatment.
A lot of people have the “why me” syndrome, but I say “why not me?” The initial shock of learning that I had cancer was the hardest thing for me to deal with, but I quickly realized that you have to be mentally prepared and willing in order to survive.
There’s always the thought in the back of my mind that my cancer might come back and because of that I don’t take anything for granted. Being able to watch my daughter grow up is one of the many things I appreciate much more now. I quit smoking, try to eat better, and my daughter and I attend church every Sunday because that’s an influence I want her to have in her life, and in my own. Tinkering with my cars and my Harley serve as therapy for me. Everyone needs to find something to occupy his or her mind after going through an experience like this. People associate cancer with death, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You must remain strong in order to survive.