Facing one’s mortality, patients with cancer develop an urgency to find meaning in life. They struggle with the illness, its emotional impact, and the consequences of treatments. But, with time, reflection, and support from others, they develop resilience. Cancer patients often are not passive. Instead, they choose different strategies to maintain and restore their health. They also leverage a variety of approaches to cope better with their struggle. The book tells the stories of 39 patients with incurable lung cancer and aims to help patients, family, and healthcare providers understand the experience of living with cancer. The author is a family doctor, teacher, and researcher who is also a stage 4 lung cancer patient himself.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I have stage 4 lung cancer, I am a doctor and attending physician teaching residents, I am also a researcher. I wanted to use my talents to help patients, caregivers, and health care providers understand cancer patients' experiences. I also wanted to lend a voice to patients to tell their stories. Finally, I wanted to write a book by the people and not about them so we can celebrate their agency, resilience and learn from their journies as they find meaning.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I did a research study and interviewed 39 lung cancer patients. They were recruited as part of my qualitative research work. I am a professor at the University of Washington. Patients were recruited from an online support group. I am patient #40.
I went back out into my social group and came out
to them and repaired some connections. I’m going
out and hanging out as I used to, and it feels good.
I’m just psychologically trying to put myself in
homeostasis similar to how I used to be, but more
positively. So, I’m hanging out with people,
informing them about my cancer but also not
letting that monopolize our conversations. Not that
I wanted to hide it around them at all because they
all know about it and they’ve all come to me, but I
also want to show them that this is different—this
is what I look like, and this is how I am, as a lung
I never let go of my sense of humor. I feel like that
has helped keep me sane. It helped mainstream me.
It helped me continue to connect with people who
are not going through what I’m going through,
because there’s still a commonality. I keep my
laughter and my huge sense of humor and my
likeness. I try to hold onto it for dear life, because
once you lose that, you set yourself apart. It’s like
putting yourself in prison. People don’t understand
why you are so guarded and shut down, and most
people don’t even care. They look the other way.
But if you can stay in touch with your true essence,
your true nature and allow that to continue to
flourish in the face of this adversity, you connect
with humankind, with the world, and that makes a
huge difference for me, daily. I don’t see many
people because of where we live, which is
unfortunate because I feel very isolated. But, at
least when I speak with people on the phone, or
once in a while do FaceTime, I feel that people are
leaning in, and they’re not kidding me, they’re
supporting me. That’s such a blessing. I don’t want
to drain anyone, and I don’t need pity. What I do
need is support, and what I need every day is a few
Sometimes, I don’t feel I have strength. Some days,
I feel broken. I feel I can’t do it for another day. I
remember thinking to myself one time, maybe shouting it out loud when I was newly diagnosed,
and I was running. I was out for a run. “I cannot
do it!” But then I look at those girls and my husband. I
think about wanting to be there for them. I was
telling myself, “This is the best you’re gonna feel
for the rest of your life. So either you have to just
shut up and do it, or you can keep going downhill.”
That was a turning point for me. I thought to
myself, “OK. Well, right now, this is the best I’m
going to feel for the rest of my life. And so I might
as well enjoy it.” It sucks that this is where it is, but
I can either sit there and think how much it sucks
or get up and live. I think I would rather get up
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