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Stanford Medicine

Cancer

Hope and faith are powerful medicine

We’ve partnered with Inspire, a company that builds and manages online support communities for patients and caregivers, to launch a patient-focused series here on Scope. Once a month, patients affected by serious and often rare diseases share their unique stories; the latest comes from North Carolina father Buddy Ruck.

“We have treatments that can help you survive for about two years.”

I remember those mind-numbing words spoken by my pulmonologist on February 18, 2011. I knew the doctor had a reputation for being one of the best pulmonologists in the area – but come on, how could he throw this news at me and make me feel like I was going to die and that was it? I remember thinking to myself that there had to be someone on this earth who survived this disease.

It had all started earlier that month when I called out of work thinking I had the flu. I went to my PCP to get treated. After a chest X-ray, CT scan, MRI and bronchoscopy/biopsy, I was told that I had small cell lung cancer.

How could this be happening? No! I have a wife and four young children at home. They need me! I was deeply depressed and couldn’t eat or talk about it. I pulled away from everyone because that’s all everyone could think and talk about and I wanted no part of it. I was told I was going to die and no one seemed to understand how I was feeling. Between not eating and loss of water weight through my tears, I quickly lost 20 pounds. So many thoughts went racing through my mind. Just a few weeks earlier I had a great life – a great family, career, friends and health. And now it was all gone in a matter of a few weeks? How could God let this happen? Why me? What did I do to deserve this? I was so angry that I actually told God that I hated him. I knew it was the wrong thing to do but I couldn’t stop myself from feeling this way.

Like many, I decided I wanted to educate myself on what I was up against. I remember trying to search for any longterm survivors of SCLC. I found one forum where there was a man who was a four-year survivor but he hadn’t posted anything new in more than three years. This is the only story I could find on the Internet showing some length of survival. I don’t know why it made me feel better, but it did. I guess it gave me some hope to hold onto.

While sitting with my wife in the waiting room before my PET scan, we cried together. I was so scared and had many questions. Had it spread all over my body? Will they tell me I only had months or weeks to live? When I met with my oncologist to get the results a few days later, I said to her, before she could say a word, “Doc, do I have any chance of beating this? My pulmonologist told me I may live up to two years with treatment.” I closely watched her body language. I knew I had put her in a difficult position, but what else could I do? I needed to know. She told me I was staged with limited SCLC because the disease was confined to my right upper lobe with no lymph node involvement. She replied with confidence, “Yes, you can beat this. We are treating to cure!”

I can’t describe how much weight was lifted off of my shoulders with just those two sentences. That was the turning point for me. It restored all hope, all faith. I can’t explain it, but at that moment I just knew I was going to beat this beast. Soon after being diagnosed, friends and their church members brought us meals and comforting words. These acts of kindness meant more to us than they will ever know. I knew God was there watching over me and my family.

I then met with my radiation oncologist, who offered me the opportunity to sign up with a protocol that would allow me to be treated more aggressively than the normal treatment protocol. Another benefit to this protocol was that I would be helping future SCLC patients as they would be closely monitoring and documenting my progress. There was no better way to make up for my prior mistake of blaming God. It was a win/win/win, and I couldn’t wait to get started.

Thanks to the strong support and unconditional love of my family, friends and God, I completed all treatments by August 2011. Yes, the side effects were challenging – but I was alive! I remember looking into each of my children’s eyes afterwards and being so thankful that I was able to be there with them, and for them. I still suffer from “scanxiety” before every CT scan, which I believe is true with most cancer survivors. Cancer is my last thought before I fall asleep and my first thought when I wake up. I also think about cancer every time I feel a new pain. It’s my new normal. But I’m still grateful.

Looking back on my experience, I believe the power of hope and faith are underestimated in the medical field. I believe some doctors think and act too logically. They sometimes act on statistics alone and not on the individual. Yes, it’s important to be honest, but I don’t believe it’s okay to put a timeframe on the patient’s life or talk in a manner of no hope. Statistics are just numbers and they don’t tell the whole story. They don’t account for your intangibles, your desire to fight and your faith in God. Every case is unique and no outcome is ever the same. Miracles happen and happen often – I’m living proof of it.

This is why it has become a passion of mine to help those who are newly diagnosed or are having difficulty dealing with this disease. New treatments are being discovered and implemented daily. I encourage patients to never give up hope or faith because I believe they are key for survival, not medicine alone. Stay strong!

Buddy Ruck, a technology manager, lives with his family in Charlotte, N.C.

12 Responses to “ Hope and faith are powerful medicine ”

  1. Butterfly830 Says:

    Thank you for your story. You are so right. God is there for us if we only let Him help. I have had chronic kidney disease for a couple of years and am getting prepared for dialysis and am waiting for a kidney transplant. My husband was diagnosed a couple of months ago with CLL, Leukemia, and is being checked for heart and lung problems. It is difficult to keep him in a positive attitude with all of these things. I keep telling him to just have faith and not to have a negative attitude. I truly believe that God is looking out for us. First and forever, we are healed by the blood of Jesus and His Word is final. May you and your family be forever blessed.

  2. Karen Frost Says:

    Thank you for your story. My husband and I have two sons, one 8 and one recently 11 and the older was diagnosed with ALD (I was not the carrier which is almost always the case but he fell in the 5 to 7 percent of boys who have it by a freak occurrence they call a di novo mutation). I shared and still share all the feeling you described and the pain for my son, his brother, my husband and myself. We are strong in our faith and are keeping hope as best we can. We too are living a new normal but pray everyday. Thanks.

  3. Tom Says:

    Thank you for this wonderful story.

  4. Andy Says:

    Dear butterfly830…..CLL is often a leukemia that can be watched without treatment. If the white blood cells are very high , say 75-100,000 the oncologist will look more seriously to treatment than watch and wait. They also look at the red blood cells (hemoglobin and hematocrit ) and platelets. If those numbers are not too bad and the WBC’s are, say 20-50,000 a watch and wait is possible. Of course numbers are not the only thing that the oncologist will look at. If hubby is having fevers,sweats, weight loss and has enlarged lymph nodes the Dr may get a CT scan to check more fully. The other good thing about CLL is that there very good treatments out there that will usually put the patient into remission most of the time. So, in reality, CLL these days is very treatable and there are multiple regimens and new drugs hitting the market. I wish you and hubby good luck and have a very Blessed Christmas !!

  5. Julia Austin Paul Says:

    Your words are so powerful. Tears of joy for you, and everyone beating this dreadful disease. Please continue to share with us your thoughts and feelings, and update as often as you can. You are an inspiration, and God has blessed you with the gift of giving hope to those that need it! My best to you. Thank you!

  6. Buddy Says:

    Thanks! I am please that you’ve enjoyed it. It’s so important to get our success stories out there because when you or a loved one is diagnosed with a serious disease, your first feeling is shock, then scared or sadness. It’s so hard finding anything positive on the web. It’s a lot better these days though. Not to mention how many new treatments are being discovered constantly.

    People like Bonnie Addario are a blessing because she has dedicated her life getting as much data and knowledge out there for us to learn and utilize. More people need to tell us their success stories to give patients and caregivers hope. Without hope, you have nothing.

    Stay strong!!

    -Buddy

  7. Laurel (aka sarcogal49) Says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. My story is quite similar, a tumor found as a fluke on an MRI done on my left hip for left groin pain and leg weakness. It was thought to be a benign nerve sheath tumor, so it was taken out in a manner to save the left femoral nerve it was growing from, but the pathology later showed it to be a very rare, aggressive soft tissue sarcoma, not one you want to have microscopic cells seeded throughout your pelvic cavity and into the nerve with an EMG needle. So my risk of recurrence and mets was/is stupid high, so high that all the oncologists I saw decided not to bother with chemotherapy since there was nothing left to see on scans to measure its effectiveness (not a candidate for radiation–too deep, too close to internal organs)and to just wait, watch (and for me…worry) until it came back, which they all expected would happen “relatively quickly” (I’m quoting from a report)and then figure out what to do. But it hasn’t come back, so far, 15 months out, without any treatment other than the surgery, my defiant cancer-can-kiss-my-butt attitude, nutrient dense pescatarian diet, acupuncture, yoga, and chinese herbal medicine. Like you, I have found no long term survivors (MDA told me only 12 or so Americans a year diagnosed with this type in this location so its hard to find ANYONE with it)and the statistics for comparable retroperitoneal sarcomas are bleak. But in statistics there are always outliers… those that fall outside of the norms, those that fare extremely poorly and those that do extremely well. I am determined to be counted in the latter, rather than the former.

  8. lilybet Says:

    Buddy, your story was very encouraging to me. I am a 7 y survivor of nhlymphoma and breast cancer. God has rescued me more than once from a very critical situation and I praise His name. Thank you for sharing. You are in my prayers. Lilybet

  9. Tammy Says:

    Hi my name is Tammy, I’m 51 and was dx with small cell limited December 12-13 I’ve finished my 3of 6 chemo, and 2of 15 radiation, I feel great, and I am very optimistic, love hearing stories like yours, I plan on being around quite awhile, mind over matter really does exist.

    Everyone out there battling this disease, should plan on kicking it’s butt.

    Let’s keep talking about this through out the years :)

  10. Buddy Says:

    Tammy, I’m so happy to see the positive way you’ve decided to approach fighting this disease. You are right! You have to have faith in your ability to win this battle. Please, keep in touch and let us know how you are doing. :)

    -Buddy

  11. Buddy Says:

    Hi Lilybet! WTG on being a 7 year survivor!! You are a blessing to many who are scared, whether they are a patient or caregiver. Our stories of survival will help provide strength and courage to get through it.

    -Buddy

  12. Buddy Says:

    Hi Laurel, I couldn’t agree more. Statistics are ok to know, if you really want to know. But they are just numbers to me. Every case is unique due to so many variables. No statistic can tell someone how much heart they have in their fight against cancer. May God continue to bless you.

    -Buddy

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