DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE - CONGRESSIONALLY DIRECTED MEDICAL RESEARCH PROGRAMS

Bruce Dunbar
LCRP Consumer Reviewer

Yvette Brisco Mr. Bruce Dunbar with his three daughters.

Cancer is rude. Like an uninvited guest, it has a knack for showing up at the wrong time and interrupting a perfectly good thing. And then it never seems to get the hint that it’s a good time to leave.

Cancer first popped in unexpectedly when my father was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer while I was in college. We lost him a few weeks after my graduation, taking away the years of our relationship as adults, retirement with my mother, and his presence as a grandfather. Later, it was a colleague’s wife lost to lung cancer before their children finished high school, another colleague to leukemia, and friends and neighbors with breast, prostate, and brain cancer.

There were bright spots and silver linings, of course. My father’s illness inspired my first involvement with cancer research, as I found a way to put my lifelong passion for competitive swimming to work through an organization that uses swimming events to raise millions for research programs around the country. There were survivors who became advocates, funders and volunteers. One neighbor’s fight with leukemia led me to register as a bone marrow donor, which then led to me donating in 2014 to a terminally ill but now healthy 12-year-old.

Then came 2017 and my diagnosis with Stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) with the ALK+ (anaplastic lymphoma kinase) amplification. After all that, cancer had the nerve to show up again.

My story is not that different from many others with NSCLC. I was in the prime of my life, successful at work, loving every minute of raising my three then teenaged daughters and, by all accounts, a picture of health. I was even training for the longest swim race of my life, a 7-mile event across Long Island Sound near my home just outside New York City. First, I thought it was just turning 50 and a few extra pounds that was slowing me down—then maybe asthma or an allergy. Treatment for that did not work, nor did it for pneumonia. More tests followed, along with more worry, more interruption, and, finally a diagnosis.

“There’s never been a better time to have lung cancer,” my oncologist told me early on in his attempt at a pep talk. I knew enough to know he was right, from advances in immunotherapies to a TKI (tyrosine kinase inhibitor) that had just been approved the week before for first line use with ALK+. I was thankful he was heavily involved with the Lung Cancer Research Foundation, providing access to information and the promise that research holds, which only proved his point more firmly.

I have worked closely with the Foundation over these past 4 years and was honored when they nominated me to be a Consumer Reviewer with the Lung Cancer Research Program (LCRP) last year. My experience and knowledge of cancer is far from unique, but even going back to the years after my father’s death, my dream has been to make it so no one has to have a “cancer experience.” And if they do, there is hope. The work the LCRP funds is at the forefront of that effort, and it is exciting, inspiring, and empowering to be part of it.

My life, like so many others’, has been interrupted by cancer in too many ways to count. It will never be the same. But my work with the LCRP—which is done alongside some of the leading experts in lung cancer treatment and research and with the support of fellow patients and the wonderful program staff—gives me hope and confidence. I finish each award cycle feeling like there is a real chance to send cancer packing for good.

Last updated Sunday, August 1, 2021