This particular guest post is actually the distillation of a telephone conversation that I had with my friend known by our online community as stageIVsurvivor, but more informally as G. When I became part of the INSPIRE community four and a half years ago, G was already a well established member, and practically a legend.
Diagnosed on November 30th, 1999, G’s lung cancer had metastasized to his brain. Nonetheless, his oncologist was confident that his cancer could be cured and remarkably, after a combination of surgery, chemo and gamma knife, G has been out of treatment and cancer free since November of 2000.
Prior to his diagnosis of lung cancer, G smoked. And he still does.
I will be the first to admit that I have had some trouble with this fact, as it flies in the face of all reason. Forget stigma for a moment; it just seems like a good idea to stop smoking if you have lung cancer. However, I am also adamant that one of the best ways to combat stigma is for smokers and former smokers to stand tall and refuse to be bullied or shamed into believing that they somehow deserve a diagnosis of lung cancer. No one deserves this or any other disease, and I was pleased when G agreed to share his story.
After our conversation, I came away with a much greater understanding of who this complicated individual is. Certainly, as a long term survivor of stage IV lung cancer, he provides incredible inspiration. In our forum, he often injects a dose of humor. Occasionally he can come across as a real curmudgeon, and G and I have had a dust-up or two. However, if you were to ask many of those he has helped behind the scenes, they would describe a generous and caring individual.
I was curious as to why someone who had not been in treatment for 12 years would be drawn to a support group for lung cancer survivors. “I’m just one of the very, very lucky ones…it is my responsibility to do what I can for other people.” G emphasizes that his continued “participation on Inspire is only to help those still suffering and their families“.
Crediting an amazing medical team for his successful treatment, G is on a personal crusade to educate others about the importance of “proper treatment, proper direction and proper insight“. He abhors complacency, and often urges patients to seek a second opinion.
As for his own unconventional approach to survival, G is blunt. First, about the fact that he initially faced his diagnosis with anything but optimism. “I was angry and had a horrible attitude“. Unfortunately, G also ended up addicted to pain medication, and at one point just wanted to give up. However, he experienced a moment of clarity, realizing that he ‘wasn’t dead yet‘. Even while “lamenting the fact that I wouldn’t be around to raise my sons” G acknowledged that he “wasn’t doing a good job then“. He went into rehab and beat his addiction to the pain meds.
And so why does G still smoke? Certainly, there was a sense of “the horses are already out of the barn“–the damage done. But it would seem that the real reason is that having beaten both drugs and alcohol (G acknowledges that he has an addictive personality), he has found nicotine that much more difficult to kick. He’s giving e-cigarettes a try, and if they don’t do the trick, he may try something like chantix. Of course, given his personal stuggle with addiction, he is leary of any chemical intervention.
At any rate, on November 30th, G will mark his 13th year of surviving stage IV lung cancer. He’s a very lucky man, and he knows it.