ACR Bulletin

Covering topics relevant to the practice of radiology

The Art of Never Giving Up

A patient advocate recounts his journey undergoing testing and treatment for lung cancer — and how it changed his outlook on life.
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I faced every day with a fight for life — a life full of adventure and memories.

December 01, 2019

My story began in December of 2013 when I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. I had no symptoms but the cancer was discovered during my first post-50 colonoscopy. I was diagnosed at stage I and in January of 2014 had 20 inches of my colon and 1 inch of my rectum, along with lymph nodes, removed. After testing, it was determined that all the cancer was removed and there was no need for any further treatment. Over the next few years, my blood tests every three months were normal. Then, in January of 2017, my carcinoembryonic antigen test came back elevated for the first time.

My colorectal specialist referred me to a pulmonologist for further testing. A CT and MRI showed that there was “something” in my left lung. I had a bronchoscopy with transbronchial biopsy, as well as a CT-guided biopsy and PET scan. Each result came back as “not cancerous.” After six months of various testing and procedures, the decision was made that “something” must be a partially collapsed lung and that we would wait six months and see where we were at that point.

On Christmas Day of 2017, I began to feel ill but chalked it up to a cold or the flu. A couple of days later, I went to the doctor and they told me I had pneumonia. They did a chest X-ray and when the radiologist gave me the CD, she had a sullen look on her face. I knew what she saw and told her the pulmonologist had told me it was a collapsed lung. Her reply was quick — it was not a collapsed lung and I needed to see a specialist immediately.

A senior thoracic surgeon took my case and, after reviewing my previous tests, he determined I needed to have surgery — a lower left lobe wedge — to determine what was growing in my lung. He was only able to remove a little of the lobe as the cancer had spread outside the lung but at this point had not metastasized to any other organs. After consultation with family members and friends, I chose an oncologist who had a lot of experience in dealing with what I had — stage III lung cancer.

When I was diagnosed with stage III non-small-cell lung cancer, I relied on my faith to help me in every aspect of my journey.

After my first meeting with the oncologist, I underwent a new CT, MRI of the brain, and PET scan. Armed with these new results, we established a plan of attack. I would begin 36 radiation treatments and two 8-day chemotherapy sessions of cisplatin and etoposide. During these treatments, I was surrounded by family and friends who helped with daily tasks, as well as with physical, emotional, and spiritual support. At the conclusion of my radiation and chemotherapy treatments, I began a new immunotherapy, IMFINZI®, in an effort to teach my body’s own immune system to fight any leftover or newly developed cancer cells. The only side effect I have experienced is a day or two of tiredness after the treatment. I completed the cycle in August. The treatments did exactly what they were prescribed to do — my mass “significantly decreased with no new cancer cells.”

When I was diagnosed with stage III non-small-cell lung cancer, I relied on my faith to help me in every aspect of my journey — including telling my parents and adult children that their son and father had cancer, again. I leaned on many patients, caregivers, family members and friends. I faced every day with a fight for life — a life full of adventure and memories. Most importantly, I learned what it means to never, ever give up.

Author Ron Simmons  is a two-time cancer survivor, patient advocate, and member of the ACR’s Lung Cancer 2.0 Steering Committee. Follow his story on Twitter @PoppySimmons61.