Lung cancer survivor trains for triathlon

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TB CW Pic 1.JPGBy Tom Barber

I'm a 58-year-old lung cancer survivor.

A great thoracic surgeon at MD Anderson, Ara Vaporciyan, M.D., removed my large tumor by doing a lobectomy of my upper left lobe in August 2009. 

I participated in a clinical trial for two-and-a-half years after surgery. It involved some painful injections and side effects, but nothing as bad as what many patients go through.

Now, I'm training for my first triathlon.

Lung cancer in my family

Three of my immediate family members have had lung cancer.

I was my oldest sister's primary caregiver until she died peacefully in my arms in 1995. So, I know what caregivers go through. How it changes the direction of their lives.

My next sister helped me a great deal with our oldest sister. Like me, she's now a lung cancer patient at MD Anderson. 

The power of "I can"
"You can." Those are the two most important words for family and friends to say to patients.

Early in my journey, I decided the two most important words for me to say to myself are "I can."

I have the same fears as you, the same uncertainties, the same depression. I dread scans like you. I sit with you to get my IV inserted and in all those places we feel our special, but unfortunate, bond. It has become ever-present in my life, too.

But saying "I can" has done so much for me.

Physically, it kept me from questioning whether I could and, instead, I just did - after checking with my doctors, of course. To be able to do things, to not feel helpless, to believe I can survive -- that significantly improved my quality of life.

In fact, I ran a half-marathon in February in honor of all patients and their families.
It was difficult and took me a long time, but not because I had cancer. I'm not a good runner. I've never done any endurance challenges, and I've had back and neck surgery. 

Being "normal" feels really good, even if it means I'm not going to win any races.

Doing something I've never done
Now I want to do something I've never done, and for which I really have no skill. That way, no one can say, "He spent a lifetime doing this; of course, he can do this." 

I also wanted to do something unique for a lung cancer survivor. Something others might not think possible for a person missing part of their lung.

So, on May 5, I will do a triathlon. I'm told it will be the first time a triathlon of any distance has been done by a lung cancer survivor.

I've done some swimming (like 40 years ago), but I am no runner or cyclist. My coach is visibly nervous when he rides next to me. I really stink at bike riding.

People ten years older pass me when I run. My good friend and sometimes trainer can run backwards faster than I can run straight ahead. But, I train a lot now. I can get better.

Have faith that you can

You are my inspiration. I think about all of you, my fellow patients -- my mother, sisters and the tireless caregivers at MD Anderson during every run, every swim (but not every bike ride because I'm too busy trying not to crash).

People who know me look at me as a cancer survivor, not a victim. That gives me hope.

This hope and belief in survival, combined with faith, family and friends, has made my journey one of hope and now confidence. 

My wish is for you to know you can have hope and confidence like me. Do what you can. You can do something to impact your outcome. You can live a wonderful life.

I believe you can. Your family believes you can. You must believe you can. Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see. 

Have faith that you can.

Read more posts by Tom Barber.

1 Comment

July 2009 I had a masectomy...that would be one month before you had your surgery. Your story is inspiring and heart felt. Keep up your "can do" attitude. Good luck and I know what it feels like to survive and thrive after cancer threatens to take your life. God's blessings abound and I send you peace, love & happiness today & every day of your life. Liz

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