AJ Patel: He's a 1der

Updated: Feb 15

Most people are shocked when I say I was finally diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in August 2013, as though it is a good thing.

You see, after two years of constantly having to clear my throat when speaking and a ragged hissing sound while exhaling, I was exhausted from going from one physician to another with no solution for my symptoms. The physicians were looking in all places but cancer. Why would they? – they look at my chart – 45 year male runs on average 20 miles per week, non-smoker, eats healthily, Body Mass Index well within range, no family history of any cancer of any kind. Checking for cancer was just not on the radar.

So yes, finally at 47 years old, getting a diagnosis was a relief, but, I just couldn’t fathom how cancer, how lung and how Stage IV. I was totally dazed and stunned. The diagnosis came after coughing up blood twice, insistence on getting a CT scan, which revealed a 7-centimeter nodule in my lower left lobe and multiple tumors in the other lung. A biopsy confirmed stage IV lung cancer.

Ask anyone who has battled lung cancer and they will tell you the experience changed their life. No matter the circumstances, the avalanche of tests, treatments, research, and planning can leave patients feeling hopeless.

I was lucky to find a national cancer center close to where I live. Doctors insisted I get not only genomic testing but also an MRI brain scan. I told my oncologist, “I have lung cancer. My brain is perfectly fine.” But the scan showed a 3- and 4-centimeter tumor on the left hemisphere, where the motor function is located, plus a number of smaller tumors.

I faced the decision of operating plus radiation versus radiation only. I was blessed to have found two mentors. They inspired hope. They pulled me up when I was down, pushed me forward when I was stuck, and served as beacons of light at every turn. I credit these people with helping to make what I consider is the best decision: to have brain surgery. This way, doctors were able to obtain a tumor sample which, when sent for testing, came back ROS1 fusion. As a result, I am able to undergo new Targeted Precision therapies that are responsible for keeping me alive and well, even six years later. Finding Strength through Lung Cancer Journey As time went on, I learned how to manage the doctors, advocate for myself, and protect my psyche. And, somewhere along the line, I learned how to embrace my diagnosis. I accept my horrible tenant, we coexist because I cannot evict. It causes me trouble now and then, and no matter how painful I ACCEPT my cancer and in turn I have full control over my tenant. No longer fearful of treatments, pain, progression, anxiety. Nothing, not anger, not even death! I have a pact with my tenant; you win and WE both die, that’s your only moment of glory – but I win every moment that I inhale because all the pain or misery you try to inflict, I accept. That which I accept cannot faze me; I simply walk through without giving the difficulty of the moment any attention. Cancer is here, part of my existence. If you give it possibility, it will reflect back. Divinity appears to me every day. So many things that I never noticed and took for granted; going on a walk and becoming curious of every moment, from my gait to the feel of the breeze, or the subtle vibrations of my body. This new depth of consciousness has allowed me to live a life where I am fully engaged in the moment, not even thinking of tomorrow.

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