I lay alone in my hospital bed, the words and music of David Bowie filling my headphones…
Pushing through the market square,
So many mothers sighing
News had just come over,
We had five years left to cry in
News guy wept and told us,
Earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet,
Then I knew he was not lying
We’ve got five years, what a surprise
Five years, stuck on my eyes
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we’ve got
I wept to the music. Five years seemed so far away. A future I would never experience. A very remote possibility at best.
I’m listening to it again now. Bowie has gone. Another lost to cancer.
Five years is a landmark for those with cancer. We measure the statistics for five year survival. Early detection increases the odds. Isolating the cancer and effective surgery seem the keys to success. Sadly, many cancers are detected late. Symptoms go unrecognised. Patients and doctors assume there must be a simple explanation. It’s only a cough. You’re probably just tired. Don’t make things worse by worrying about it. You’re just unfit. The blood tests seemed good. The x-ray didn’t show anything. You’ll be over it in no time.
Lung cancer is too often diagnosed too late. Many of the symptoms resemble a common cold or flu. And, if you don’t smoke, then why would you even contemplate the idea of lung cancer? Late diagnosis takes options off the table. If it has already spread, then surgery is normally not an option. A stage IV diagnosis is considered terminal. Metastatic (spread to other organs) lung cancer requires a chemical strategy, but it’s not considered curative. Until very recently this was only chemotherapy but, in many cases, this is now moving to targeted drugs that work on the cancer at the genetic level. Another frontier is immunotherapy that strengthens the body’s own defence system to attack the cancer. Combinations of strategies are being tested. Cure, however, still seems a long way away.
In many ways five years is merely arbitrary, simply a number—like a cricketer who reaches a century, 100 runs. Statistics are only descriptors of what has been, not predictors of what will be. Nevertheless, five years is five years. It’s five years of life. It must not be taken for granted.
Cancer.org lists the five year life expectancy for non-small cell lung cancer. This is my particular cancer type. This is what people like me are told they can expect. It’s not pretty.
- The 5-year survival rate for people with stage IA NSCLC is about 49%. For people with stage IB NSCLC, the 5-year survival rate is about 45%.
- For stage IIA cancer, the 5-year survival rate is about 30%. For stage IIB cancer, the survival rate is about 31%.
- The 5-year survival rate for stage IIIA NSCLC is about 14%. For stage IIIB cancers the survival rate is about 5%.
- NSCLC that has spread to other parts of the body is often hard to treat. Metastatic, or stage IV NSCLC, has a 5-year survival rate of about 1%. Still, there are often many treatment options available for people with this stage of cancer.
So, you see, five years was a lifetime away. Five years was out of reach. Five years was a dream and a prayer.
Today marks FIVE YEARS since I was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with stage IV NSCLC. FIVE YEARS. FIVE YEARS. FIVE YEARS.
I remain NED (no evidence of disease).
It’s a year since I last had chemo.
Time to say “Thank you”.
I thank God for giving me life, forgiveness, a relationship with him, and the real hope of eternity. I thank God for giving me purpose in life.
I thank God for my beautiful wife—who researched options, sought the best care, stuck by my side, urged me on, watched over our family, worked hard to pay for my medical costs, prayed for me, and kept on going even while everything hurt her so much.
I thank God for my awesome children and daughters-in-law. I thank God that he upheld them in the brutal reality of their dad having ‘incurable’ cancer.
I thank God for my two beautiful little grandsons. Boys I never expected to meet, who bring me such joy.
I thank God for my father and mother, for their prayers, visits, phone calls, and compassionate support, while facing many difficulties themselves.
I thank God for my family and friends, who have suffered alongside my suffering and rejoiced in my progress and healing.
I thank God for my church, and my other church, and praying people everywhere who have taken the time to ask God to heal me and help me. It blows my mind.
I thank God for my oncologists, my nurses, my surgeon, my exercise physiologist, my acupuncturist, and my many helpers.
I thank God for my cancer buddies. Some I’ve shared with face to face, some who have not lived to see five years, some I only know through Facebook. I thank God for their friendship, their generosity, their tenacity, their compassion, their faith, and their hope.
I thank God for giving me Hope Beyond Cure and then giving me time to share this with others.
I thank God for my five years!
And, dear God, please can I have some more.