Daniel Cadigan and family
My story begins with clichés. It is often said that, “doctors are the worst patients.” Like many other primary care physicians, I had a tendency to put my patients first and my own health second. It’s also said that hindsight is 20/20. Both are true in my case.
I began to develop a cough in the winter of 2013. With regards to the hindsight part, for the two winters previous, I had noted that I was more winded when I went for a walk. I put it down to being asthmatic since being a teenager and thought that my asthma was simply getting worse as I was getting older. I was 46 years of age and figured that I was in pretty good health. I never smoked and did not have any major health problems. Through January and February 2013, my cough became more pronounced at night, and I noticed that my sputum was tasting very salty. Something in my medical school training rang a bell about that, but I could not recall exactly what. Again, I thought, “It’s winter; it’s asthma.” Subsequently, in early March, I developed a fever. My wife, an ER nurse, listened to me with a stethoscope and told me that my breath sounds were abnormal. I had a chest x-ray that showed probable pneumonia. I took antibiotics and felt much better. About a week later, however, I developed severe chills. A repeat chest x-ray showed a persistent pneumonia, so it was on to another course of antibiotics and a follow-up x-ray. That was still abnormal, so I underwent a CT, which showed a probable persistent pneumonia. I still wasn't thinking cancer. After all, I was young and had never smoked. I thought maybe I had a fungal infection. I saw a pulmonologist who immediately told me that the salty sputum was a hallmark for bronchioloalveolar cell carcinoma, a form of adenocarcinoma. Bronchoscopy confirmed this. I was suspected to have stage I cancer.
In May 2013, I underwent a bilobectomy, as it was discovered during surgery that the cancer was in two lobes of my right lung. So I came out of the OR a stage III lung cancer patient. I underwent conventional chemotherapy with all of the debilitation that went along with that. I returned to work and life. By the spring of 2014, however, scans showed that chemotherapy had not been effective and I was now stage IV. Fortunately, I have an EGFR mutation and have been on targeted therapy since that time, which has been highly effective. I am now a 6-year lung cancer survivor.
Initially, as I suspect for most people, my focus was on myself, my family, and my survival. As I began to feel better and accept that I was now living with this disease rather than dying from it, I felt the need to increase awareness. Initially, this was within my own community. We had a successful fundraiser for lung cancer research, raising $20,000. I educated my own patients in my primary care practice. Unfortunately, I also saw some of my patients develop lung cancer and not survive. Due to these factors, I have become a strong advocate for education, screening, and research.
I became aware of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs’ Lung Cancer Research Program through LUNGevity after I spoke at a regional summit for lung cancer patients. I am very thankful that I was nominated to be a consumer on the review panel.
The Lung Cancer Research Program is a wonderful process for ensuring that potential high-benefit research gets funded. I was told early on that my role would be as a patient, approaching things from a patient's perspective, not as a scientific person, even given my medical background. I quickly learned that that would be the case anyway. The rapid pace of research is astounding, as are the brilliant minds that are performing this research. The degree of science involved was far beyond my abilities. I have developed a newfound appreciation and increased respect for cancer researchers and recognize that they are some of the most intelligent individuals in this country. I discovered that this is not a job for them; it is a calling, a vocation. They truly care. It has been an honor to meet them and to be able to work with them through this program.
Lung cancer is the No. 1 killer of men and women in this country, causing the deaths of far more people than any other cancer, yet there is not much public awareness of this. Through programs such as the Lung Cancer Research Program, I believe we can change the outcome of lung cancer in the future for many patients.
Last updated Thursday, September 10, 2020