In 2016, then 46 year old James Hiter was a streaker. In fact, he still is, despite a shocking, and symptom free lung cancer diagnosis. No, James does not spend his time naked, rather he is an avid runner. In fact, at the time of his diagnosis, he was on day 764 of a running streak – that’s 764 straight days of hitting the pavement. And then he came down with bronchitis.

The hidden disease: symptom-free lung cancer

While being examined, his doctor at the local community hospital decided to order a chest x-ray, to check for pneumonia. James did not have pneumonia, but he did have two masses in the lowest lobe of his right lung. Because he had experienced none of the typical symptoms of lung cancer – a persistent cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, and others – no one was terribly concerned. He was in terrific shape, and, the bronchitis notwithstanding, felt great.

While neither James nor his doctor believed the masses to be cancer, it was agreed that the masses had to be removed. Upon waking from a lobectomy, James received the shocking news that he did, indeed, have lung cancer, despite a total lack of symptoms.

Following surgery, James’s doctor noted that there appeared to be no lymph node involvement and, now that the two masses (a cyst the size of a tennis ball and a ping pong ball size tumor) had been removed, James was considered surgically cured, there was no longer evidence of disease and he required no further treatment.

Symptom-free lung cancer until 1-year scan

At his 6-month post-op scans, he remained without symptoms and there was no evidence of cancer. It was not until his one-year scan that 13 visible cysts appeared in the two remaining lobes of his right lung. This recurrence led to chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatment. After two and a half years of this, James sought a second opinion at a major teaching hospital. There they would conclude that James should have the remainder of the lung removed as well as continue with maintenance chemotherapy.

For the following two and a half years, James would have chemotherapy infusions every three weeks. All was good until the fall of 2019 when scans showed that the cysts were thickening and that the current course of treatment was no longer working. Before he began chemotherapy, and throughout treatment was when he decided to embark on another running streak. Having not run since soon after his diagnosis, he knew that it was time to refocus his energies. This streak lasted, wait for it, 934 days. While in treatment!

In February of 2020, James had most of the rest of his right lung removed – the small part remaining he refers to as his “nub”…but it is doing the trick. Seven weeks after that surgery, he began yet another streak. At the time of this story, he was on day 490! Currently, James is stable and is not currently undergoing any further treatment.

Side effects of chemo counter symptom free lung cancer

But lung cancer and streaking is only part of James’s story. Before his diagnosis, James was a financial planner, overseeing independent planners. His work required him to travel extensively. In fact, during the height of his treatment, James would go directly from chemotherapy appointments to the airport, work, and then return home just in time to experience the side effects – still the only “symptom” of disease – of his treatment. He did this for better than a year until he ultimately made the very difficult decision to retire. Retirement, however, did not translate to kicking back and lazing around. For James, his early retirement, thanks entirely to lung cancer, has reaped amazing fruits.

James is the parent of two children in their twenties. When he retired, he not only continued his streaking but also decided, along with his wife Emily, to foster older children who were looping through the system.

“I have always loved older kids. When I was working and traveling, I could not make any sort of commitment. I just wasn’t around enough. I would never have been able to do this if I hadn’t gotten lung cancer. Being diagnosed with lung cancer changes your perspective. I used to drive a lot for work. In my home state, there were electronic signs along the highway that showed highway fatality counts, hoping to raise awareness. It occurred to me that each of those people fully intended to return home that day. With my lung cancer diagnosis, I’ve been given the gift of understanding my mortality, how I manage life and relationships. I think – and live – with that in mind, asking myself what I can do today to be productive or make things better and , impactful, keeping in mind the need to rest, something I have also learned from having cancer. I don’t wonder, why me, rather why not me.”

In addition to fostering, all-around nice guy James has also created a nonprofit, Streak For a Cure, designed to raise awareness of the fact one only needs lungs to get lung cancer, as well as to raise money for research.

Keep a look out for James running with his German Shepard Brawko, continuing his streak, lung cancer and all.

It is not uncommon to not have any symptoms of lung cancer prior to a diagnosis. Unfortunately, many people find themselves in that position. Read these stories of other symptom free lung cancer patients who are living with lung cancer just like James

A Lung Cancer Research Advocate

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