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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.

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