Jorge Gonzalez was 47 when he was diagnosed with stage III lung cancer on May 28, 2011. He was young, relatively healthy and a non smoker without risk factors. To say the diagnosis came as a surprise to him and his family is an understatement.
Because he didn’t have the usual risk factors, Jorge was misdiagnosed for several months. He was extremely frustrated at the lack of communication and interaction between his doctors, even after he was finally diagnosed. “The doctor came in and told me I had lung cancer. I was all alone in the room by myself. I felt awful. I had to call my wife and my daughter and break the news to them. It was the worst day. Everyone was crying,” he remembers.
The best part about being in that hospital was the ocean view from his room. He could see people on the beach, kayakers on the water and that reminded him of life and that people were still living. He kept telling himself that one day he would be back on the beach.
After surgery to remove the cancer, Jorge was ready to move on with his life, but he wasn’t prepared for this new normal.
The general manager of a chain of stores was let go from his job; he lost his insurance and has been denied social security disability three times. Despite all these setbacks after his lung cancer diagnosis, Jorge can remain positive and hopeful. “Everyday above ground is a good day.” Jorge says. After all, he is a lung cancer survivor.
Lung cancer affects 1 in 14 people. Regardless of age, gender, race, or smoking history, it can affect anyone. Not many people know that. There’s also a huge need for more funding for lung cancer research so that one day there will be more survivors like Jorge. Right now the 5 year survival rate is only 16%.
He admits that everything changed for him after his diagnosis. His work, his lifestyle, his eating habits all changed. He had to learn how to stay at home while his wife became the breadwinner. He’s had to learn to be a housekeeper, although he admits, he is not a very good one. His personality and emotions have changed too.
“I wasn’t the same person after. I can get a little distant now, a little grouchy. Everything changed for my family and I felt like no one could understand what I was feeling. And I felt bad for what my family was going through too.”
Jorge stresses the importance of going to an in person support group. He attends a general cancer support group in Corpus Christi, Texas. “They feel like family to me. Everyone looks forward to going to Tuesday support group!”
A year after being diagnosed with lung cancer, Jorge was invited to go to Washington DC May 4-6, 2012 to attend the LUNGevity Hope Summit, “It felt wonderful to make connections with other lung cancer survivors!” He plans to keep in touch with the other lung cancer survivors and volunteered to help others when there is a need for a lung cancer support buddy.
“I would want new patients to think positive- negativity and anger affects your health and recovery. Just go through it, figure it out and whatever it is, it will come out ok. My spirituality made a big difference in my acceptance and recovery…don’t get me wrong…I’m not through yet. I still have dark thoughts and fears but I’m working through it.”
Jorge’s favorite thing is spending time with his family. He’s married and has two daughters, age 21 and 19. His biggest goal is for them to graduate and be able to watch them follow their dreams. He says he doesn’t need cards or gifts. He just wants to treasure the time his family can spend together.
“The biggest fear I had when I was diagnosed was over my family. I didn’t know what to do so I made arrangements, called the insurance companies and took care of paperwork. I wanted to make sure things were taken care of in case I didn’t survive this.”
But he did.
This Father’s Day, maybe they will have a BBQ and go to the beach and relax and have fun. It’s all about family for Jorge and this year he isn’t looking out of the hospital window at the water. He will be spending it on the beach!