By Lauren Wanko
Jersey Shore University Medical Center’s David Clark is used to caring for sick patients. This past January he became the patient.
“I remember hearing my doctor say to me the first time, he said, ‘Dave, I don’t know how to tell you this, we didn’t expect this, but you have cancer’ and I immediately thought what I had heard was ‘I’m going to die,'” Clark said.
The Emergency Department Senior Manager was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. That spread and a CAT scan revealed a golf-ball size tumor on his spine. The lifelong athlete quit smoking years prior. Days before the diagnosis he was ice climbing. Aside from weight loss the New Egypt resident had no symptoms.
“I had no idea, I did not expect, it was rather devastating when we first heard that,” he said.
Meridian Cancer Care’s Dr. Thomas Bauer says there are two main types of lung cancer; small cell, which tends to spread quickly; and non-small cell, the most common and one that can be operated on most frequently.
“It’s related most likely most commonly rather to smoking. Probably 90 percent of all the cancers that we have are related to smoking,” Bauer said.
Still non-smokers can get lung cancer, says the doctor. Some other risk factors include exposure to radon, asbestos and other occupational hazards.
The New Jersey Department of Health indicates there were 6,015 lung cancer cases in 2013. 4,016 residents died from the disease in 2012.
“I’m sure you’ve seen all the ribbons for the different cancers. The one for lung is either clear or white and it’s seen as the invisible killer,” Bauer said.
Dr. Bauer says too often patients dismiss symptoms because they have most likely experienced those conditions in the past. Things such as coughing, back or chest pain or weight loss, which is why most patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage.
“More people are going to die this year in New Jersey and around the country from lung cancer than breast, colon and prostate added together,” he said.
Which is why the doctor insists prevention is key. His message? Don’t smoke. If you smoke now: quit.
“I think too many people have a prejudice against lung cancer. They look and identify the people as having brought it on themselves. I think if we stop as a society and look, obesity, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, lack of exercise, they’re all things we do to ourselves that we can do better. So the person with lung cancer is no different then any other disease,” Bauer said.
Dr. Bauer and his team recommend a number of different treatments for lung cancer, including surgery, focused radiation, chemo and other targeted therapies. David had radiation, surgery, and now he’s goes for chemo every three weeks. It’s something he says he expects to do for the rest of his life.
“Chemo is a very very tough experience, but I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve been able to manage it well,” Clark said.
“I think the most important thing if you have lung cancer is never lose hope,” Bauer said.
“I had to make a conscious decision. Am I going to allow this cancer to beat me, or I am going to resign myself that I’m going to live with cancer. And I think live with cancer. The key word to me. Living with cancer is the ability to each day enjoy that day, and to me that’s a win,” Clark said.