Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Big C and Me

Bring it on!
They say I have lung cancer.

But I'm grateful. How can that be? Those of you who read my blog on a regular basis know it's mainly about my journey as a photographer who specializes in motorsports. On January 4, 2019 that journey took on a whole new meaning for me when the results of a PET scan showed I had a cancerous spot in my right lung. I have been scanned from head to toe and those tests show no other signs of cancer anywhere else in my body. I met with a  thoracic surgeon last Wednesday and surgery has been scheduled for February 19th to remove the cancer.

So how can I be grateful they found cancer? I smoked for 40 years but at the end of this month I will be smoke free for 3 years, so I was hoping for good news from the earlier tests but I wasn't surprised to hear the news from the PET scan. After all, my Mom died of complications from lung cancer in July 2015 so the family history and my personal history intersected about where I feared. The good news is that it is a small spot and my doctor says that no further treatment will be required aside from regular scans in the future to see if it recurs or shows up somewhere else in my body. So there's gratitude for early detection.

I'm also grateful because my employer, Goodwill Education Initiatives, encourages and gives incentives for employees to get annual physicals. My primary care physician had urged me to get a $49 heart scan because of my and my Mom's histories of smoking even though I have no symptoms of any kind. I got the heart scan November 2nd last year and followed that up with a CT scan December 7th. Without that series of scans which culminated with the PET scan and a brain MRI January 11th, I seriously doubt that the cancer would have been caught until it was much further along. The surgeon described the spot as the "size of a pea" and it is only in Stage 1. There's still a small chance that a biopsy of the tissue that will be taken during surgery might not actually be cancerous, so I will pray for that outcome but I am not betting on it.

Some funny things have happened along the way that I am also grateful for. During the January 4th meeting with the pulmonologist about the PET scan results, he said he was surprised that there was virtually no history in my medical records for him to review. I have been an athlete my whole life and lead a very physically active lifestyle so we got a good laugh out of his observation. I used to think my level of  physical activity would "blow out" my lungs and counteract the other aspects of my lifestyle but at 61, it appears that fallacy has all caught up with me. Another humorous moment came with the surgeon who asked me if I could walk up two flights of stairs. I laughed at her and said I routinely walk 20,000 steps a day doing my motorsports photography in 90 degree heat carrying 25 pounds of camera gear. She responded "he laughed at me!" so I am grateful for my overall health.

I am also grateful that I get the chance to write about my experiences and have a platform to share what I am going through. I've had broken bones and gotten stitches a few times throughout my life but have been fortunate that I've never had to undergo any kind of surgery until now. Considering all the things I've put my body through, that in itself is amazing! Now I know that lots of people have written about their experiences with cancer so my blog reports may not be anything earth shattering: it's just my story and maybe someone else will read something they can connect with.

A week before I had my PET scan and found out I had cancer, I had the opportunity to photograph the Music City Bowl game between Purdue and Auburn in Nashville, Tennessee. Before the game, I got to see a young man, former Purdue student Tyler Trent, who had almost single-handedly united the Boilermakers during his own very public fight against his cancer. Since my diagnosis, I have thought to myself that if that young man can keep his faith and fight to live at the age of 20 when he had barely begun to live, then I have no reason to mope around or feel sorry for myself. Less than a week after I photographed Tyler at the game, he passed away, so I consider myself lucky to have been in his presence that day which turned out to be so close to the end of his fight. Godspeed. #TylerStrong Boiler Up Hammer Down

So how do I feel about my diagnosis? Initially I felt alternately sad and angry, in nearly equal measure, but today I am grateful and happy things are working out the way they are. I have so much to do in my life and no one is issuing any proclamations about how much time I have left so I plan to carry on as if this surgery will take care of the problem once and for all. The reality of cancer is rarely so simple and none of us gets out of here alive anyway, so I am going to live my life "as if" I have another 20 or 30 years ahead of me and do all the things I've dreamt of doing. We're not even guaranteed tomorrow and I don't want to waste a minute.

Whatever you do, don't feel sorry for me. I appreciate people asking how I am doing and if there's anything they can do, but I don't want to be treated like I have the scarlet letter "C" emblazoned on my forehead. Let's just live and love with all our might and be grateful for whatever time we have together. There's no time like the present - it's a gift after all. And I still have a lot of life to live. Next up for me on this journey is shooting a Purdue men's basketball game February 3rd and then the following week I fly to Florida to shoot the ARCA race event at Daytona, so you'll be hearing from me again soon. To paraphrase the late Sid Collins, "stay tuned for the greatest spectacle in living." And thanks for reading; see you soon!