Seven Years: House Money

Jeff Ehlers, Lung Cancer Survivor

It’s been seven years since my initial lung cancer diagnosis.  Seven years of ups and downs and lots of life.  

In the lung cancer world, seven years is basically uncharted waters. All of the bleak survival statistics are centered around the magic 5-year survival rate.  That’s the number you look at when you’re first diagnosed and think, “Man...  If I can only beat that number." Five years came and went, and then six, and we are. Seven years is definitely a winning streak, and I started playing on house money several years ago.

Seldom have I really thought about what the seven-year number means.  When I was first told that I had lung cancer, I was in disbelief.  My thoughts ran the gamut of laying plans for my immediate demise, to seeing my granddaughter born in a few weeks, all the way out to watching my son graduate from high school. The planning is good. Events give you a goal to shoot for, a milestone to reach.  As one passes, several others are already in line to achieve, and the list goes on and on.  

Thankfully, I haven’t had to watch anyone prepare for my passing, although the reality of the lung cancer statistics has made planning for that eventuality a priority for me. I’ve always been a planner, and for me to leave those preparations to someone else is nearly unthinkable. Not that I’ll care when the day comes, but I don’t want anyone else to be burdened with something that I could have easily handled... and so I plan....

I try to think of the “what ifs.”  What if I’m not here to fix this? What if this bill is left off the list? What have I forgotten?  The list never ends, but a degree of peace comes from knowing that the big stuff is handled and at some point, people will just have to figure out the rest. They always do.

During the past seven years, I’ve experienced a lot. I’ve dealt with relationships ending and new ones starting. I’ve seen death first-hand, and watched brand new life begin. I’ve felt good on some days, and so bad that I thought (or maybe wanted...) to slip off to sleep and never wake up. In the end, the bottom line is that God has seen fit to keep me around and I’ve been able to watch the calendar pages fall to the ground month after month. Each event has been a stroke of the sculptor’s chisel, as God shapes me more closely into the person that He has in mind. (There are still a lot of rough edges, so at the very least, I hope He still has some work to do on me.)

In the spring of 2014, the first spring following my initial diagnosis, I was able to attend what was then called the LUNGevity Hope Summit. I packed up and flew to Washington D.C. for a long weekend of fellowship with other lung cancer survivors, seminars on the latest developments in the lung cancer world, and time to reflect on the fact that the diagnosis did not necessarily equate to a death sentence. It was an amazing time and very eye-opening to meet people from all backgrounds, ages, and walks of life, brought together into a group that no one wanted to be a part of. 

The slogan that was used on the LUNGevity Foundation promo materials was: “Find It. Treat It. Live.”  I was initially diagnosed at stage 1B and I’d been blessed to truly be able to follow those words to a tee. After seven years, six cancer diagnoses, involving both lungs and my brain, and reclassification to stage 4,  that’s still my roadmap.  I’m finding it, treating it, and so far, still living. As a friend of mine says, “I’m optimistic. I’m still buying green bananas!”

This post is a celebration, but it’s certainly not for me alone. I’d like to raise a glass to everyone involved with the lung cancer community. I’ve been fortunate to meet some amazing survivors over the past seven years, and I’ve seen far to many of them pass away from this horrible disease. I’ve watched caregivers grasp at anything they can find to ease the burden and pain of their loved ones. I’ve seen first-hand so many inspiring stories from survivors who were kicking and clawing at their own version of lung cancer when I first met them and are still around to tell the tale years later.

Here’s to the researchers, the nurses, the doctors, the scan technicians, and to the poor ladies that I cuss every time they try to find a decent vein to draw blood from in my chemo-ravaged circulatory system. Here’s to the friends, the family members, the clergy, and the caregivers in many forms. We truly couldn’t walk this path without you. And here’s to the survivors. For some the journey is over almost as soon as it’s begun, for others the battle has been fought and they have been fortunate to see NED written on their chart, and for still others, who wake up every day wondering if the thing that’s trying to kill them has gained any ground overnight... 

Here’s to all of us. We’re intertwined in the lung cancer world for better or for worse. We share tears, struggles, and joys as we’re united by this unrelenting common bond. We take each day that we’re given and try to make the best out of the hand we’ve been dealt.  Some days are blessedly good and some days are so rough that we know no one would believe us if we had the words to describe them. 

For myself, playing with house money gives me a sense of perspective. Statistically, I probably shouldn’t be here to write these words, yet, here I am. Each day is a marvelous gift that God has given me and each day will have unique challenges that come with it. I’m definitely not the same person I was seven years ago. Still being shaped. Still trying to find time to reflect and remember how far God had brought me down this road. Still kicking and looking forward to Cancerversary #8. 

Thanks for reading along.

One thing I’d leave you with: if you, or someone you know, is involved in any way with lung cancer, I’d like for you to be aware of the big event that is coming up next weekend, August 21st -23rd.  The LUNGevity Foundation is hosting an online, virtual conference, in place of what I described above that was formerly called the HOPE Summit.

The International Lung Cancer Survivorship Conference is totally free, but you need to register to be a part of it.  So far, over 900 people will be taking part. I promise, it will be well worth your time!  You can find all of the information and registration at I hope you join me there.


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