Living with Metastatic Lung Cancer

Gregory O’Brien is striving for a high quality life while living with stage 4 lung cancer.

When I was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer, my life was turned 180 degrees at the snap of a finger. My wife and I went from finally enjoying weekends off, staged between our daughters’ marriages and starting families of their own, to PET scans, MRIs, and a refrigerator calendar filled with doctor appointments. Along with the “new norm,” came chemotherapy infusions, 114 to be exact, totaling just over seven and a half gallons, milliliters at a time, drip by drip. The cancer has since metastasized to my brain and rib bone. While it is terminal, the treatment from the beginning has been about balance and striving for quality over quantity of life.

There was a time, albeit one of the fewer times that I was frustrated, where I needed help to refocus myself out of a hole that I found myself in. I started with confession, and the rest followed. I was able to prioritize things in my life, attempting to let go of situations that are beyond my control and work on the things that I do have control over. It enabled me to explore new ventures in my life, hobbies and projects that aided me in putting the cancer on the back burner. One hobby that I took up was leather crafting–simple wallets, keychains, belts, etc. I enjoyed learning something new and I chose leather crafting for two reasons. First, it was to occupy my time between chemotherapy, to remove my mind from the 24-hour-a-day job of thinking about every facet of my illness. Second, it was to leave something for posterity for my grandchildren.

My five-year cancer anniversary is fast approaching, sharing the date with my wife’s birthday.

My wife, Caroline, has been my companion through this whole ordeal, the steady constant by my side, morning, noon, and night. She has taken the brunt of the load, serving as intermediary between the doctors, nurses, and me; many times, remembering more of my appointments than I do! One thing that I am 100 percent sure of is that reaching five years would not have been a possibility, regardless of today’s technology, if it were not for her. Thirty-five years married and I love her more than the day I met her.

My (our) cancer ordeal has had its ups and downs. The roller coaster ride that we can’t seem to get off, the steady flow of CT scan results – either stability or progression – treating new side effects, decisions for treatment options, new specialists to meet and work with because “things changed.” It’s been five years of this “new norm”. We have gone through a lot and continue to do so. Caroline and I, along with our daughters and sons-in-law, family, and friends, are at the frontline battling day-to-day, wishing, thinking, praying, and hoping for a cure. “Suiting up and showing up” to do whatever is needed in the hopes that this quality over quantity of life formula works. I have faith in it. The National Cancer Institute defines the five-year survival rate as “the percentage of people in a study or treatment group who are alive five years after they were diagnosed with or started treatment for a disease, such as cancer. The disease may or may not have come back.”

While I suppose that the five-year journey means different things to different people, for myself, and only myself, it is remaining keenly aware and blessed by God that I am in the very small minority, at or about three percent.

Whether you are a patient, survivor, caregiver or loved one touched by cancer, your story can have an enormous impact. You can provide hope and inspiration to someone recently diagnosed with cancer or a patient undergoing therapy.

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