donna-pastureI am sitting here staring at a blank sheet of paper, wondering what I have to say to you that will be worth your time reading it. I am no scientist. With the advent of chemo brain, I don’t even really enjoy reading and researching like I once did. So I have no great wisdom to impart

What I do have to pass along is hope. Such a little word but one that has the ability to change your life. Hope crowds out anxiety and pushes away fear. It fills you with peace and can motivate you.

“Where in the world is she coming from?” you may be asking. “How can anyone write about hope when the world is crashing down around us, when we’ve learned that we’re fighting a deadly cancer, when life looks bleak?”

Well, I admit that I am a glass half-full kind of girl. My tendency has always been, and continues to be, to look at what’s positive and to minimize the negative. I refuse to let fear...or cancer...control my life. The way I look at it, if I spend time worrying about the “what ifs” of tomorrow, I am allowing cancer or fear to control my today. And I am not willing to give this &#$%!@ disease one moment more of my time than I absolutely must.

donna-dogsAfter my first oncologist told me that I had stage IV lung cancer and that he expected me to live for about four months, he asked if I had any questions. He stood open-mouthed and nearly speechless when I replied, “Yes. Can I keep playing agility with my dogs?”

Agility and my dogs are my passions. I enjoy nothing as much as I enjoy being out on the agility field, directing my two dogs around a course full of obstacles they have to negotiate. The sport requires mental acuity (you have to remember the course!), stamina and strength. There’s no time for thoughts of cancer, sickness or death when I am on the agility field. (If you don’t know what dog agility is, you can watch one of my runs with my Sheltie, Barney.)

Stress and lack of exercise have both been blamed for causing health problems. Getting out and being active, doing something I love, has great health benefits. Those four months I was given back in 2012 have been extended a bit!! And I have enjoyed every day of the extra months and years I have been granted.

Of course, we can’t credit just exercise and lack of stress for my unexpected longevity. Despite the fact that lung cancer research is horribly underfunded, dedicated scientists and doctors are making progress in finding treatments that are offering more and more of us a longer life. Targeted therapies are designed to attack just the malignant tumors. In many cases, that means that patients are not as sick as when the only treatment option was chemotherapy, which killed good and bad cells without discrimination.

butterflyBecause of the progress being made in targeted therapies, it is highly recommended that all lung cancer survivors have their tumors tested. Genome sequencing provides oncologists with information about the makeup of the tumor. Based on this information, treatments that have been proven effective against that specific type of tumor can be used. The likelihood of successful treatment is much, much greater than when a general chemo is used.

In addition to targeted therapies, work continues on developing immunotherapy. Immunotherapy works with a person’s own immune system, teaching it to recognize stealthy tumors that have escaped its notice previously. I am the beneficiary of immunotherapy treatment. From the moment I began receiving nivolumab (Opdivo) back in 2013, my tumors stabilized. To this day, they remain in my lungs, but they are just sitting there, doing nothing.

While every person is different, I have had minimal side effects from immunotherapy. My thyroid quit working properly, but that is easily remedied with a little pill every day. I suffer a slight bit of fatigue but nothing compared to what I felt when I was getting chemotherapy.

Nobody wants to be diagnosed with cancer. Nobody. But if I have to battle lung cancer, this is a good time to do it. Breakthroughs are coming faster now than ever before. More and more of us are defying the odds and living five, 10 or more years past our diagnosis.

My message to you is to not give up. Take control of your life. Ensure that your oncologist is offering cutting-edge treatments: genomic sequencing of your tumors, targeted therapies, immunotherapies or combinations of chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and/or immunotherapy. And to the best of your ability, live your life. My favorite saying is, “I have cancer, cancer doesn’t have me.” Another is, “Live your life, not your cancer.” Don’t give cancer any more of your time than is absolutely necessary!!!

Happy 2017! I’m looking forward to what this new year will bring. I expect that we will be learning of even more treatments that will see more and more of us beating the odds against this beast!

Hating cancer…loving life,

Donna Fernandez
Owner of blogspot, MyBattleWithLungCancer

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.