My start with stage 3 squamous cell lung cancer wasn’t very pleasant. Since childhood, I had a history of pneumonia. So when I had back pain and started coughing, I figured I had pneumonia again. I went to my doctor and he gave me a prescription that worked for a week or so. Then the coughing and pain came back. He prescribed another antibiotic, but this time I started coughing up blood. That bothered me, and I told myself, “Something is not right.”
So I went back to the doctor. He said “I guess it’s time for an x-ray but you need to know they’re expensive.” I told him I was retired military and the cost would be covered. I had spent 20 years in the Aviation – Search and Rescue division of the U.S. Navy, so I knew I had medical coverage to take care of me. The x-ray showed a dark area on my right lung, so I was sent for a CT scan. When I didn’t hear anything for a few days, I called the doctor’s office, and his nurse told me I had cancer. I said, “Well, I guess I need an appointment to discuss this.”
I wasn’t looking forward to seeing the doctor and hearing what he had to say about me. I had lost my mother to cancer over 35 years ago, and I saw what she went through. But my doctor encouraged me to see Dr. Hostetter at Goshen Center for Cancer Care, so I did. I had a PET scan and then saw Dr. Bruetman, who explained things to me, and then I saw Dr. Wheeler in radiation.
Dr. Wheeler said I needed 35 radiation treatments, five days a week for seven weeks. Dr. Bruetman said I would have chemotherapy once a week, right along with my radiation. I had no idea what was going on, looking back I was totally ignorant of the whole process. My niece Amy, her husband Joe, and daughters Annie and Janie were with me – long distance – through it all. They included me in their daily prayers throughout my treatment and recovery. They are my loves and I couldn’t have done it without them.
Everyone at the cancer center was wonderful too. The chemotherapy nurses were excellent, I couldn’t have asked for more. I had an ‘angel’ in the midst of it, a nurse named Sarah in the radiation department. I couldn’t have loved her any more than if she had been one of my own family. She encouraged me through every treatment. One day she told me “John, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised.”
A month after I finished treatment, I had my first follow up appointment to review my latest PET scan with Dr. Bruetman. One of the radiation technicians saw me and said “Dr. Wheeler wants to see you,” so I stopped by his office before seeing Dr. Bruetman. Wheeler asked me “John, want to play a game?” I replied “Well Doc, that depends on the game.” Dr. Wheeler said “See these two photos? This one here is your cancer, and this one here shows it’s gone.” I said “I’m in remission?” And Dr. Wheeler said, “No, it’s gone.” Those were some of the best words I have ever heard. Dr. Bruetman was a little more reserved and said “It looks like good results.” I have been cancer free ever since that day.
I kept everyone of my follow up appointments these past three years, including my PET scans and now just x-rays. I see Dr. Bruetman once a year and each time he tells me “Looks good, see you in a year.” I still worry about it coming back; cancer is always on your mind once you’ve had it. I’m 73 years old now and consider myself to be in good shape. I thank God that I have a pretty good life. Cancer patients now days have a good chance of successful treatment. Not like it was when I lost my mom and my sister. They didn’t have the technology back then that they do today.
So I’m glad to share my story. I want others facing cancer to know that there is hope. You might even call it “Search and Rescue – Goshen style.”