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Meet Don

Name: 
Don
Hometown/city: 
Santa Rosa, CA

How did you learn about your lung cancer diagnosis?
Before my diagnosis I had a satisfying social life. I was working as a Business Development Manager at a technology company in Rohnert Park, CA and hiking and biking every weekend. I was also a volunteer at a prison helping inmates overcome substance abuse problems and as it turned out, my work at the prison probably saved my life.

One of the mandatory requirements of volunteering was a medical clearance exam to ensure that you are healthy enough to work with inmates. To my astonishment, I wasn't as healthy as I thought. In fact, the results from the images showed that I had "stage 4 non-small cell lung adenocarcinoma". I was given 8-12 months to live.

How were you impacted by your lung cancer diagnosis?
My first thought when I heard the C word was "I am a goner," and my online research confirmed my suspicions about my diagnosis. However, once I connected with other survivors and advocacy groups my outlook on life improved.

Non-small cell lung cancer is not the first life-threatening disease I've had. In 1998, I was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart) and told I would probably die within the next 2 years without a heart transplant. I decided to take charge of my health and started exercising, changed my diet, and adhered to my physician's advice on medication. Ultimately, my condition improved and my doctor determined I no longer needed surgery.

I applied this thinking to lung cancer, I knew it was a terminal illness and at some point it would probably kill me, but decided I would give it a run for its money. That was over eight years ago and although I have had a few bumps in the road I am still going strong.

What have you done to maintain a sense of normalcy?
I turned in my normal card at the door the day I was diagnosed with lung cancer. With that being said, I would not trade the last eight years of my life with anyone.

I met the love of my life, Penny, on a lung cancer website. Penny passed away from small cell lung cancer, but not before we had a chance to create wonderful memories together.

I have met hundreds of patients, advocates, researchers, and doctors over the years, some of whom I consider some of my closest friends.

What is important to me is to pass on everything that I have learned throughout this process. I have a saying that I live by — can’t keep what I am not willing to share. My last promise to Penny was that I would continue to advocate for lung cancer research and awareness, which is exactly what I have been trying to do.

I try to keep that promise by sitting on a number of advocacy survivor boards, staying involved with patient groups, volunteering for government research programs, and mentoring newly diagnosed cancer patients.