In 2015, I had a series of downturns. A surgeon botched knee replacement surgery leaving me unable to bend my right leg very far—ever since, I’ve walked with a slight limp. Far worse was confirmation that I had a large tumor in the upper lobe of my right lung. In 2013, I’d coughed up blood, but my primary care physician told me it was nothing to worry about. When it happened again in 2015, he sent me for a lung x-ray. That revealed a large tumor in my right lung that had been there for some time. I spent months in chemotherapy and radiation to reduce the size of the tumor. Then a surgeon removed the upper lobe of my right lung. I didn’t understand until later that the lung cancer came close to killing me. I no longer trusted my primary care physician. I found a new doctor.
The lung cancer was my own fault. Until I was in my forties, I was a heavy smoker. When I was a teenager, literally every adult I knew smoked. On my eighteenth birthday, my parents gave me a carton of cigarettes, a lighter, and a cigarette case. I was welcomed to the adult world. During my military service, I didn’t know anybody who didn’t smoke. Then came my thirteen years under cover in Vietnam. Smoking was as normal as eating.
In the nineteen-eighties, the general population finally accepted the idea that smoking was bad for you. Through a long painful process, I weaned myself off cigarettes. But it was too late. I’d already done serious damage to my lungs.
After I was diagnosed with lung cancer and began treatment, my surgeon and pulmonologist were genuinely thrilled at how well my body withstood the rigors of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. My lifetime of running and exercise and my careful attention to a healthy diet had paid off in ways I’d never foreseen. Not only did I survive, I thrived.