“It was like in a movie. Suddenly everything stopped and movements became in a slow motion. I could not comprehend what my doctor was talking about, it could not sink into my head. I was enveloped by fear because I felt I would die too soon not achieving things I wanted to happen in my life.”
That’s how lung cancer survivor Mike Espina recalled the moment he found out he had lung cancer. Espina discovered he had lung cancer shortly after he returned to the Philippines. At first, he lost weight, his body grew weaker and more tiresome, until one night, he spat out blood, and he felt the need to have himself checked. He took a series of tests until a biopsy revealed that he has lung cancer.
For Espina, the discovery was the shock of his life. He said being diagnosed with lung cancer was farthest from his mind because he was living a healthy lifestyle. He ran regularly, ate healthy, and did not smoke. Despite his lifestyle, he still ended up having lung cancer.
The doctor said that his exposure to petroleum refineries could have triggered the development of cancer cells in his lungs. Before he took up graduate studies in Germany, he lived and worked in Kuwait as a product development specialist for a telecommunications company. Aside from his exposure to petroleum refineries, the doctor said stress could have also led to his condition, especially because his time as a graduate student in Frankfurt was a taxing period.
Espina’s pulmonologist recommended that he take oral therapy for three months to shrink the mass found in his left lung. After which, he and his pulmonologist would decide on a treatment plan. During these times, Espina got support from friends at church, who gave him advice, and prayed for him.
Even as he was on the brink of despair, friends from other countries called him to give him assurance and comfort.
FLICKER OF HOPE
This November, as Lung Cancer Awareness Month is being celebrated, stories like that of Espina give hope, especially to lung cancer patients and their loved ones. Yet for many patients and doctors, there remain many challenges when dealing with lung cancer.
“We have heard stories from lung cancer survivors, and they are stories that touch us,” Dr. Gerry Cornelio, an oncologist of the Saint Luke’s Medical Center said. “However, the challenges of lung cancer remain pressing, and they need to be addressed.”
In 2012, the Globocan statistics of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reported that lung cancer is the most common type and cause of cancer death among Filipino men, and top two in mortality among Filipino women.
Though smoking is considered the top cause of lung cancer, there are other factors increasing lung cancer risk including pollution, exposure to high doses of radiation, heredity, and industrial and chemical carcinogens. 
Though the World Health Organization sees a spike in lung cancer diagnosis, developments in lung cancer treatment now give patients more options of winning their bout with the disease.
“Chemotherapy remains one of the common ways of curing cancer, but there are recent breakthroughs in lung cancer treatment that can help more patients,” said Dr. Gary Lorenzo, also an oncologist from the Makati Medical Center.
Lorenzo explained that other forms of therapy include radiation therapy, which kills cancer cells, and targeted therapy, which counters specific abnormalities in cancer cells. Of all the treatment options available to patients, Lorenzo pointed out that a form of treatment called immunotherapy proved very promising in clinical trials abroad.
Immunotherapy is a form of treatment where the body’s immune system is trained to recognize and ward off cancer cells. Results of clinical trials presented at the American Society for Clinical Oncology conference this year show that aside from lung cancer, immunotherapy was also effective against melanoma, kidney, bladder, and head and neck cancers.
Cornelio, however, still acknowledges that despite these developments in lung cancer treatment, nothing beats a healthy lifestyle when it comes to treating lung or other cancers.
“A sound and healthy lifestyle, and a clean environment, remain important factors in lung cancer treatment,” Cornelio said.
Lorenzo added that this November, it is opportune to take part in activities promoting lung cancer awareness. “Lung cancer patients, their families, or anyone can take part in efforts to raise awareness on lung cancer,” he said. “Joining a support group can also be a good way in raising lung cancer awareness.”
Lorenzo noted that support groups, like Espina’s supporters from church, provide the moral, emotional, and psychological support that patients need during their recovery. He also mentioned that a support group can even increase a patient’s chances of survival.
After his oral therapy, Espina underwent another CT scan procedure to check if the mass on his lung had shrunk. The result surprised and delighted him. They were expecting that the mass would only shrink, but were astonished to discover that it had been eradicated completely. For him, his recovery was nothing less than a miracle.
Espina is now preparing to face another chapter of his life as he sets out to migrate to the United States later this yearor early next year. He also devotes time to painting, a habit he acquired from his support group as part of his therapy.
Whenever, there is a chance, whether at a church gathering, or in a random conversation, he finds opportunities to share his story.
“I share my experiences so I can help raise awareness on how we can overcome lung cancer,” Espina said, “I am grateful to have been healed by God, and I hope others can be inspired by my healing.”
 International Agency for Research on Cancer http://globocan.iarc.fr/old/FactSheets/cancers/lung-new.asp Accessed November 2015
Youlden DR, et al. J Thorac Oncol. 2008;3:819-831.
International Agency for Research on Cancer: the first 50 years http://www.iarc.fr/en/publications/books/iarc50/IARC_50%20years.pdf Accessed November 2015
 New era in the war on cancer: Revolutionary treatment that will save thousands hailed as ‘biggest breakthrough since chemotherapy.’ The Daily Mail. 31 May 2015. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3105049/New-era-war-cancer-Revolutionary-treatment-save-thousands-hailed-biggest-breakthrough-chemotherapy.html#ixzz3sNwnjs00. Accessed November 2015