Survivor Stories

Lung Cancer

Steve Gagne

In April 2003, I decided to quit smoking. I kept getting short of breath and activities that used to be easy started to become a chore. But in May my wife, Belle insisted I see Dr. Orr because suddenly a bunch of veins became very pronounced on my neck and chest. We will never forget that chaotic day, as our life drastically changed. That very day I had a chest x-ray at PVHMC and saw a doctor specializing in lung conditions.

A CT scan revealed a tumor that was between my lungs and in front of my heart. I was scheduled for a biopsy the following morning. I think we were too numb to get scared, as we went from one doctor and test to another. It wasn’t until Dr. Trivedi came to see us after the surgery and said, "Yes, you have cancer," that it finally hit all of us. Turns out I had "small cell neuroendocrine tumor of the right upper lobe and superior mediastinum limited stage." Because of the tumor’s location, they could not just operate and take it all out.

A little history my Father died of Oat Cell (a type of lung cancer) carcinoma 10 years earlier at the age of 62 and my Mother is a long-term breast cancer survivor. I kept reminding myself that a lot has changed in cancer treatments in the last 10 years. Belle and I have been married for 18 years and have one son, Chris, who was just 13 at the time of my diagnosis. I also have two children from a previous marriage, Steven and Miranda and five grandchildren. I had a lot to live for and I was determined to beat this.

I had lots of support from my family and friends and even had friends all over the world due to playing online computer games. I had a lot of people praying for me. I also found attending the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life walk really raised my spirits. Of course, I couldn’t have managed all this without my wife. She understood all the complicated/technical medical things, as her father is a Vascular Surgeon and she cooked me special meals and helped me stay focused.

We were also fortunate that she could take time off from the pre-school where she works to come with me to my appointments. During our many hours in doctors’ offices, she put together a quilt that I use and treasure every day.

Now, on to treatment! No sooner did I recover from surgery, than I started chemo and radiation therapy. I’m not saying any of it was easy, as Dr. Chanduri and Dr. Gorty told me they were going to be very aggressive about getting rid of this cancer. I had to have a shot everyday before my radiation, and I hate needles! Thankfully, I never experienced nausea or diarrhea, but I did get a bad rash from the medicine that helped keep my blood counts up.

One of my scariest moments was when Dr. Chanduri told me I had to go on disability. Not working was really hard on the family and me. I ended up being off work for 10 months. Another thing I experienced was a strong reaction to smells.

Everything smelled bad and reminded me of treatment. Sometimes I really needed everyone’s support just to get me to come in for treatment. I never needed to see the psycho-oncology counselor, but just knowing she was available for my family and me was very reassuring. Mary Dyer, Patient Care Coordinator, was really helpfulalways there to listen and ask about how we were doing. There was no way I was going to give up, but all the support sure helped me.

Six months of treatments resulted in Dr. Chanduri telling me (at the Cancer Center’s Holiday Open House) that I was in remission! That’s when I felt like a real survivor! In an effort to make sure we did everything possible to not only get rid of the cancer, but to assure it wouldn’t come back, I then began full-brain radiation. I had daily treatments (except for weekends, of course) through January and February 2004.

It may sound odd, but I play this computer game, "Everquest" in which a dragon tries to beat the player…and I found I was able to visualize the dragon attacking my cancer. And I think that really helped me focus. We have a Koi pond in our backyard and found it very soothing and stress relievingI spent quite a bit of time during treatment watching the fish.

I did use the patch to help make sure I wouldn’t return to smoking. Now, every time I even think of a cigarette I remember what I went through the pain of surgery (especially taking the chest tube out) and the daily shots before my radiation and that is all I need to remind me that I don’t ever want to smoke again! I encourage anyone who still smokes to stop nowit’s not worth it!

Now I’m back doing all the things I used to do. I returned to work in March 2004. I do live a much healthier lifestyle. Our family eats better, I take my vitamins and I exercise by walking our dog often. I also exercise my brain by playing games (computer, card, and board) to help keep my memory sharp. I also used to sing in a professional choruseven went to Europe, but my voice and lung capacity was affected by the radiation, but I am slowly getting my singing voice back.

Radiation also affected my Thyroid and I will need to take medication for that the rest of my life, but I think that is a minor inconvenience for having my life. I’ve been a Rose Parade volunteer in several capacities, working on the Sierra Madre float for many years. Although I took one year off, I continue to work on it every year. Belle, Chris and I have participated in the ACS Relay for Life in Claremont the last couple of years and plan to be one of the Center’s Team Captains this year. I also got the opportunity to be a model in last year’s Fundraising Fashion Show. I never thought I would be modeling!

Now I have a lot of future ahead of me. I look forward to my retirement years and spending lots of time with my wife, children and grandchildren. Yes, I was determined to beat thisI get very stubborn when someone tells me I "can’t" do something and now I have!

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