Dann

Diagnosed in 2006

Dann is 57 years old and lives with his family in Portland, Oregon. He has been living with lung cancer for almost nine years.

Don't give up. There is so much that is going on in the field right now - it is incredible how much more opportunity there is than when I was diagnosed nine years ago. I have been on three different treatments that did not even exist the first time I was diagnosed. There is a lot of opportunity out there, and there is a lot of opportunity to grow.

These are the experiences, ideas and views of each individual person featured here. Your own situation may be different and these ideas may not work for you.

Dann's Journey With Cancer

  • Diagnosed with Stage III lung cancer in 2006
  • Chemotherapy, then surgery, then more chemotherapy
  • NED (no evidence of disease) between 2007 – 2011
  • Diagnosed Stage IV lung cancer in 2011
  • Two more rounds of chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Clinical trial

When I was diagnosed

I thought I was dead. I'm not alone on that. The very hardest time is the first few days or few weeks after being diagnosed.

Everything else combined is easier than first getting diagnosed and letting that sink in. I did not have any way of thinking about it that was positive or healthy. You need some time to think about it and realize there are ways to cope, there are some opportunities that come with cancer and you can use it as a way to actually grow.

When one person in the family gets cancer, the entire family gets cancer. Not literally, but everyone's life is affected and it's important when you are considering your actions to consider how widespread the impact really is.

Emotions

It's important to do things that you feel give you some control. It feels totally out of control to be given this diagnosis, but there are things that are within your control.

Exercise is one of those. It's a mood elevator. It also is helpful to do all of the things that you can do to influence your treatment. Choosing which treatment provider that you have, choosing who you are going to involve in treatment.

I've found that on the one or two occasions when I went to appointments by myself, it was much more stressful. So having other people share the experience with you is important.

I feel a lot more deeply and I have a lot more awareness of my feelings. My gratitude for everything around me has grown exponentially. Stopping to smell the flowers is not just one of those clichés. I stop and smell the flowers, I stop to appreciate a couple of words that my secretary said when I walked by or that the sun is out today.

There is so much more that I appreciate.

Friends & Family

I have made a real effort to become even closer to them. For example from my granddaughters for Christmas, what I asked for was to have one day alone with each of them and so we went out and shared a lot of activities. That's a day that I'm still treasuring now more than a year later, so I asked for the same thing this year and they're both looking forward to the time.

There are a lot of things that aren't good about cancer, but I'd say about 95% of it has been really positive for me, and family relationships and friend relationships are a really important part of that.

A lot of that comes from me reaching out to them and being a lot more honest about what's going on. I share what I'm afraid of, what is working well for me, what are my hopes, what's the next treatment coming up, I share some humor. And what I get in return from them is love. They extend themselves much more than I ever expected and I learned how much more they care about me than I realized.

A few days after I was first diagnosed, I said to my wife, "Let's promise each other that neither of us ever holds back anything, whether it's from a doctor or what we're worried about." Over the course of almost nine years that's been a hard promise to keep at times, because I've wanted to protect her and she's wanted to protect me. But every time I've done that it has worked out much better.

This is way too hard to do on your own. You really need to have the people you care about around you.

My blog

Having physical pain and not being able to get rid of it makes it harder to keep the mood up. But one of the things that helps is to share it with others. Just by writing my blog and sharing it with others, and throwing in a little humor, I start feeling better.

People have no idea how much difference they make by responding on the blog. Even three or four words from somebody can be what keeps me going that day.

Health & Fitness

I am much more diligent about making sure I get my exercise in. My office is on the seventh floor and I walk up to it twice a day. I've been doing that for the last four years and I've counted 160,000 steps during that time.

Exercise is an important part of being healthy, feeling good about yourself and making your treatment work better for you as well.

It has become more important since I began treatment and when I was going in for surgeries. I had a couple of different lung surgeries, and both times I decided beforehand to do training for surgery. I wanted to make sure that my cardio conditioning was as good as possible, and my core strength was even better so that I wouldn't get too sore lying in bed for days.

Hobbies & Leisure

I love to go to basketball games. The Portland Trailblazers is our professional team. I had been going to those games with my wife and now I use those as opportunities to get closer to my male friends and to take turns going to the games with different close friends. So we have more meaningful time together.

I can always have meaningful time with her and I have a lot of that. This gives me an opportunity to reach out to others as well.

Travel

I go to Hawaii a couple of times a year and I treasure those times all the more now. Vacations are replenishing. They fill you back up again and they give you a chance to reflect and think about what's important.

We've also got a getaway in the eastern part of the State and we try to get there for weekends whenever we can. We go to hike, swim, sit in a hot tub and think about things other than cancer.

Work

I work full time. I'm in commercial real estate and one of the really fortunate things about that is that my schedule is as flexible as I need it to be. So I don't have to ask the boss to take time off. I do work remotely on a lot of things so it makes it very comfortable. I love what I'm doing so I have no interest in retiring.

Stopping working is a very hard transition for anyone, even if you're planning for it. One of the key things that I've learned about that is the importance of having a structure and routine in your day. Especially if you have a diagnosis of cancer, you don't want to spend your entire day thinking about cancer, you want to have other things to fill up and structure the day and feel meaningful.

Telling my co-workers

It was extremely difficult so the way that I found that worked best for me was to e-mail the people that are important to me and tell them about my diagnosis, and then by the time they responded, they had the time to collect themselves.

I didn't have to help them through their reaction to something that I was already struggling with. I learned from the first time how to handle it the second time around, so that when I sent out the word to everyone I told them, "I don't want any pity, what I want is your support."

And the responses I got back from people reflected that. They were saying, "Go get 'em Dann!" and those very positive kind of messages as opposed to, "I'm so sorry."

I don't know anyone who likes the pity messages, the "I'm so sorry." That really says that you're past tense. That you're no longer relevant, you're as good as gone. So I have made sure I frame my conversation with people so that they see the hope, because I see the hope and I want them helping me to continue to see the hope.

I usually don't find it overwhelming. I found what's really important is to show my vulnerability, and letting people see this is really hard but this is what I'm doing to make it work.

If you do have to quit work

Find other meaningful things to do. Cancer is an opportunity, it gives you a chance to find what is important to you, who are the people that are important to you and to make sure that you make the most of those opportunities.

Around the home

It's not very easy to give up sharing the load with your partner and feeling like you're the one receiving. It's important to be able to pull your weight and that's been one of the adjustments I've had to make. To learn how to accept and receive, rather than to always try and keep a balance on things.

Dann's Perspective

Have hope.

Be open to everything that comes your way, because there is more opportunity for growth than you can possibly imagine.

That comes from understanding how much other people care about you. They tell you things that they aren't going to tell you until you reach into something serious like this.

Also, how much deeper you can reach into your own soul to find things that are important in your life. Find opportunities to grow.

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