Father’s Day Stories: Men Living With Lung Cancer

Lung Cancer Foundation of America is celebrating the contributions that fathers make to their children’s lives by sharing these heartfelt stories of amazing fathers⸺who are also men living with lung cancer.

As members of the LCFA Speakers Bureau, James, Frank, and AJ got together for a Hope With Answers: Living With Lung Cancer podcast to share a little deeper about their lung cancer diagnosis, their relationships with their children, and their hopes for the future.

James Hiter with family

James Hiter: “If you have lungs, you can get lung cancer”

Streak Running is about running every day without missing a day. James ran every day for 763 days until a surgery ended his streak. That surgery was to remove one lobe of his right lung where it was discovered that lobe contained a lung cancer tumor. As a lifelong never-smoker, he had lung cancer. That day ended his streak and changed his life and perspective forever.

A year later, the lung cancer recurred and spread. After a second surgery to remove a portion of his remaining lung for biopsy, he decided to restart the running streak. This time, he knew the challenge would be greater than ever… he’d be running through chemo. Two weeks into the recovery from the biopsy surgery, his surgeon and oncologist said it was OK for him to run. So he did. Everyday. Through 40+ rounds of chemotherapy, he ran. Through countless business trips and other commitments, he ran. For 934 consecutive days, he ran.

In spite of all the chemotherapy, the cancer was growing again. Surgery was the only viable option to buy some more time. The day after his 934th run, he had most of his remaining right lung removed. Unsure if he would ever run again, he walked many miles in the days and weeks following surgery. A fantastic physical therapist helped James build stamina and maximize lung capacity. Seven weeks after surgery, a new Running Streak was born! He’s been running every day since then!

“My hope is that you will be inspired to spread the word. It’s time for this disease to be funded and treated like all other types of cancer. It’s time for the world to know that if you have lungs, you can get lung cancer – smoker, non-smoker or never-smoker.”

Frank back at the gym

Frank McKenna: “I know I wouldn’t be here without it.”

Frank McKenna has been a personal trainer for over 20 years. At the time of his diagnosis, not only was he in top physical shape, he knew his body inside and out. So, when he developed an annoyingly persistent cough, he readily accepted his doctor’s diagnosis of allergies.

After ten days taking an over the counter medication, however, Frank’s symptoms were unimproved. His physician ordered sinus and chest x-rays which showed fluid in his left lung. When Frank had the fluid drained, cancer cells showed up in both lungs. Frank, a perfect physical specimen with no symptoms beyond a cough he considered “just annoying”, had Stage 4 lung cancer.

The first line of treatment for Frank’s lung cancer was daily oral medication. While on this medication, in the four months since his lung cancer diagnosis, he became a shadow of his former self. His decline was shocking; he and his family were certain he would not live to see Christmas.

In what felt like a last-ditch effort, his medical team performed a lung biopsy. Frank tested positive for EGFR and immediately started on a new oral medication that had just been approved for his particular biomarker. The very next day, Frank felt energized enough to try a few easy exercises at the gym. He was surprised to find himself feeling pretty good.

These days, Frank is back to his fighting weight and strength. Frank also works out daily and just earned his Cancer Exercise Specialist Training credentials. He is so thrilled to be feeling so well and, through speaking engagements, volunteering and sharing his story, his life has new meaning.

“My life is different. I have an appreciation that I am still alive, still kicking, there for everybody. There’s a reason I got this – I need to give back, shine a light, and use it as a platform to educate people. I was never sure what my purpose was…but now I know.”

AJ Patel shares his lung cancer story of hope

AJ Patel: Support Leads to Newfound Hope

AJ’s lung cancer journey began with the frequent need to clear his throat – a frustration compounded by the fact his doctor insisted there was nothing wrong. AJ was in good shape, running 20 miles a week and refereeing semi-professional soccer. But his worsening throat clearing had started to impact his daily life. It wasn’t until he switched to a new doctor and demanded imaging tests (without knowing which tests to ask for) that an x-ray revealed a nodule on his lung. After a three month waiting period, the nodule had not changed and he underwent a CT scan and a needle biopsy. Within days, AJ would be told, “You have lung cancer.”

Further testing would reveal “significant” tumors in his brain. As time went on, AJ was blessed to have found two other mentors. They inspired hope in his lung cancer journey. They pulled him up when he was down, pushed him forward when he was stuck, and served as beacons of light at every turn. He credits these people with helping him to make what he considers his best decision: to have brain surgery. This way, doctors were able to obtain a tumor sample which, when sent for testing, came back positive for the ROS1biomarker. As a result, AJ was able to undergo new targeted therapies that are responsible for keeping him alive and well, even six years later.

“Cancer is here, part of my existence. If you give it possibility, it will reflect back. Divinity appears to me every day. So many things that I never noticed and took for granted; going on a walk and becoming curious of every moment, from my gait to the feel of the breeze, or how my child’s hair is moving. This new depth of consciousness has allowed me to live a life better than I could ever have wished for.”

Jim Baranski Executive Director

Jim Baranski: In Tribute to My Father

LCFA’s Executive Director, Jim Baranski knows first hand the impact of a lung cancer diagnosis in his family. Jim’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2006 and lost his battle in 2007. Experiencing the stigma associated with his father’s diagnosis was trying and led to his hesitation to share his father’s lung cancer journey with others.

“Men don’t often get a chance to open up and share their feelings with other guys, especially when it comes to a diagnosis like lung cancer. This Father’s Day podcast is a unique opportunity for these guys to share their amazing stories about how their families are at the root of why they’re learning how to live with lung cancer every single day.”

Part of LCFA’s mission is to serve as a resource for patients or anyone seeking answers, hope, and access to updated treatment information. One way we do that is to share stories of people who are living with lung cancer because of the research that helps them specifically. Jim is hopeful that conversations like those in this podcast can change the game for men living with lung cancer.

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