By Curt Hammock
As I approached Christmas in 2010, I reflected on just how good I had it. My business was growing, I was riding my motorcycle, playing golf and getting ready to celebrate my wife, Elaine’s, birthday that month.
During that time, I had a constant nose bleed my doctor assured me was due to the blood thinners I was on for a past heart attack. Later that month, I found a lump on my neck. My doctor put me on antibiotics, but a week later the lump had grown, which led to a CAT scan.
I never thought about cancer. I had survived a heart attack years earlier and had stopped smoking, so cancer? No way.
Just after the holiday, on January 10th 2011, my birthday, I received the news, you have stage 3 squamous cell carcinoma – a tumor on the base of my tongue – but ALSO you have stage 3 lung cancer. Two separate primaries occurring at the same time and both had spread to my lymph nodes. Both my parents had died from lung cancer as well as both my in-laws, there was no doubt in my mind I had been given a death sentence.
After many meetings and tests, my doctors decided the best course of action would be to remove my defibrillator and then perform a broncostopy to remove as much of the tumor as possible. After that we would start radiation and chemo. When I asked my doctor what I could expect from the treatments, he said it would take a lot out of me. That was an understatement.
Armed with this information, I was off to my first radiation appointment. Elaine and I sat in the waiting room and I watched the people pass through, some were thin and very frail with little or no hair. It was a very lonely and scary place. Elaine did everything in her power to support me but she didn’t know what to expect either. I cannot put into words how afraid I was not only for myself but for my family. Frankly, I was certain I would die soon.
I noticed several brochures on tables and one caught my eye, “Fighting Cancer? We Can Help.” I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could talk with someone who understood what I was going through. The next day I called and spoke with a very caring and understanding lady, I told her my story and she said she would match me with a survivor and someone would call soon.
The next afternoon I received a call from Troy and that one call changed my life forever. He told me he was a cancer survivor just like me, in fact he had survived the exact same cancers. I couldn’t believe there was someone out there who had survived these terrible cancers. I began to tell Troy my story and I did something men don’t normally do, I admitted I was so afraid that I thought I was going to be sick. I had a thousand questions. Troy was very patient and easy to talk to, always honest but in a very caring way.
I hung up with a new sense of hope and told Elaine, if Troy can make it through, so can I.
I had 37 rounds of radiation and 8 rounds of chemo. My lung collapsed twice, the radiation caused severe burns on my neck, I was hospitalized 4 times and after a while I was unable to swallow and was fed through a tube.
Finally, my treatments were over. Ever so slowly I began to feel better. After three months I had a CT scan; this one was different, it showed I was cancer free! I have never been so happy. One of the first calls I made was to Troy. He understood how I was feeling; after all, he had been there.
OK, cancer is over, now what? God had lead me through this journey for a reason, I just didn’t know what it was. As I thought about Troy, cancer and giving back I realized I should give all I can to help folks just like me. I once read that when you find your calling, you are truly born.
I signed up to be a Lung Cancer Alliance (LCA) Phone Buddy, someone who has gone through the lung cancer process and can share his/her experience with others that need guidance and support. It’s an honor to convey my message of hope to the very special people fighting this terrible disease. I love to hear the hope in their voices when I say, I am a cancer survivor just like you and I will walk with you through this journey.
Oh, yes, over seven years later I’m still cancer free!!
Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Imfinzi (durvalumab), an immunotherapy treatment, for stage III non-small cell lung cancer patients, like Curt. This is the first immunotherapy treatment to be approved for “maintenance” therapy. To learn more click here.
For questions about lung cancer or becoming a Phone Buddy, contact our HelpLine at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-298-2436.