Lung cancer survivor learns about strength

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By Chuck Martinez

Six years after a stage III lung cancer diagnosis and 13 years after a superficial bladder cancer diagnosis and two recurrences, it's starting to sink in: I am a true survivor of this disease. 

During these last 13 years, I've learned that my body is stronger than I ever thought possible.


My lung cancer diagnosis

The x-ray in 2007 was just a part of my semi-annual follow-up. Everything had looked great just six months earlier, and I was hopeful and confident that all my tests would be clear once again. But the usual time to hear the results had come and gone.  


One afternoon, my office phone rang. My urologist was on the other end. He sounded straight, serious, concerned: There was a mass in my right lung. My heart began pounding in my ears. After surviving bladder cancer, I now had stage III non-small cell lung cancer.


Hearing "you have cancer -- again" is almost worse than hearing "you have cancer" for the first time. I had just finished treatment for the second recurrence of my bladder cancer. And, after facing more clinic visits, scopes, biopsies and major surgeries than most men my age, I was more than ready to move on and finally put cancer behind me. 

But with a wife and a 3-year-old daughter at home, I couldn't let it beat my spirit. There was little time to feel sorry for myself. 


Undergoing proton therapy treatment for lung cancer

On April 17, 2007, the tumor was removed along with the entire middle lobe of my right lung. But that wasn't the end of my lung cancer treatment. I made my way to MD Anderson, where doctors found cancerous cells in a lymph node. My diagnosis changed, and my idea of what treatment changed, too.


Dr. Ritsuko Komaki, M.D., and Dr. David Grosshans, M.D., thought I was a great candidate for proton therapy treatment. Knowing very little about the technology, I put all my faith into whatever I was told I needed. That August, I began weekly chemotherapy and daily proton therapy treatment for about seven weeks. When I was done, my family had a small party to celebrate the end of my treatment. It was a true milestone that I won't forget. 

Staying healthy after lung cancer treatment

After undergoing proton therapy treatment, I realized my body, mind and spirit needed to focus on getting well and staying well. With the help of my wife, I have held off 30 pounds for the past four years and have developed better eating habits. I've learned to appreciate how good nutrition can contribute to the body's own healing process. 


My lighter frame has allowed me to take up running again -- and more seriously than I ever had in my younger years. It's a new hobby that my wife and I share, one that I hope is setting a good example for our now 10-year-old daughter. I've run five half-marathons, plus numerous 5K and 10K races. My wife has run two half-marathons, and my daughter has run a few 5K fun runs.


As I enter my fourth training season, I've learned my body is capable of doing more than I ever thought possible -- running for long miles and for hours at a time and helping itself heal from cancer. I take that as a gift, wisdom I've gained in the last 13 years.


While it's easy to get caught up in race times and try to improve my speed, this year I am trying to remember why I'm able to run in the first place, and just enjoy the ride.

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