By Kyle McCarthy, Team LUNGevity Runner, August 31, 2018
I always thought of my dad as my Ironman when I was growing up. He was a marathon runner and always gave it everything he had. When I was 18, he passed away from lung cancer. I admired how he never gave up and gave that everything he had too. Even though we never had a chance to run a race together, he inspired me to run my first marathon in 2016 with Team LUNGevity. After finishing that race, I decided to set my sights on an even bigger challenge: completing an Ironman in memory of my dad.
It’s 6 a.m. and my wife, Amanda, and I are on a plane traveling to MD Anderson in Houston, TX, for her 90-day appointment. We have been on this journey for the past two years, since Amanda was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer at the age of 38.
OKAY. It's not exactly what I wanted to read in the email from my oncologist interpreting the results of my July 25th CT Scan. Since August of 2013 when I was hospitalized for a week with fluid in my lungs, "CT stable" has been the recurring message. Now the message is different. My question, which will be addressed Monday afternoon: can I live with 'slow progression?' I would imagine that there are more aggressive characterizations of 'progression.' Nevertheless, I have to wait three more days to find out.
You may have heard of the term “chemo brain” or chemo “fog”. It’s a term some patients use to describe the cognitive issues and side effects resulting from chemotherapy, radiation, clinical trials and other drugs associated with cancer treatment.
Did you know that cancer caregivers can have cognitive dysfunction too? Sudden life changes, emotional distress, work and financial stresses, insomnia and medications such as anti-anxiety and anti-depressants can cause memory impairment.
My lung cancer was discovered by accident. In April 2016, I was in a car accident which landed me in the emergency room. I had scans to check for internal injuries. They didn’t find any broken bones but they did discover a mass in my lung. The E.R. doctor advised me to see my primary care provider for a follow up. My PCP referred me to a pulmonologist but since the mass was located behind my heart, there was nothing she could do. The pulmonologist requested a PET scan and referred me to a thoracic surgeon.
On April 4, 2016, I received news that would change my life forever: my mom had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Before my mom was diagnosed, I knew nothing about lung cancer. I assumed that it was a smokers’ disease and that it was relatively easy to treat. I had no idea that lung cancer kills more people than breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers combined, and that people who never touched a cigarette could get lung cancer. After all the health classes and anti-tobacco programs I went through in school, I still felt unprepared for the road ahead.
When I look back a year after my lung cancer diagnosis, I wish there were more resources, support, and education readily available for myself and my family. It was not until 10-11 months into my journey that I got connected into national lung cancer support groups, educational resources and different events focused on lung cancer. From the time I was connected to these support groups to now, my outlook on lung cancer has changed 180 degrees.
I was diagnosed on April 21, 2017, at the age of 31 with stage IV lung cancer. My primary diagnosis was right-middle and partial right-upper lobe with metastasis to my brain and mediastinum lymph nodes in my chest. Being a former collegiate and Olympic level athlete, and being in the military at the time of diagnosis, I was in great physical shape with little or no symptoms. It was a shock to be told I had the deadliest form of cancer* and that just 1% of patients with my diagnosis survive 5 years.
My experience with lung cancer started out scary just like any cancer diagnosis. The first three months after my diagnosis were filled with fear of the unknown. It took a while to wrap my mind around the fact that I had cancer and to come to peace with it. During that time, I prayed a lot and I thought about life and my kids and what I needed to plan for them. I would sit outside by myself in quiet reflection and I would journal my thoughts and feelings.