Diagnosis: Lung Cancer
Treatment: Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgery
Situated within EvergreenHealth radiation oncologist Dr. Eric Taylor’s office is a figurine of Ganesha, a Hindu symbol for wisdom, good luck, and eliminating barriers.
It often serves as gentle encouragement for the thousands of patients Dr. Taylor has served throughout his 40-year career in cancer medicine.
He, too, draws inspiration from its presence, but never more significantly than earlier this year as he faced his own cancer diagnosis.
"I WAS ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED"
When Dr. Taylor noticed a persistent cough and flu symptoms, his primary care provider recommended a chest X-ray, to rule out anything significant. Instead it revealed a cause for concern – his symptoms were actually caused by a sizeable cancerous mass in the upper right lung.
“I was absolutely terrified,” he described.
Never a smoker, lung cancer was the last thing the 66-year-old expected to face. Despite his decades of experience leading efforts to advance his field, “You just can’t help but think that life is over,” he recalled.
Like many newly diagnosed patients, Dr. Taylor and his family grappled with the darkness of the unknown as they faced an endless list of questions: How did this happen? How much time do I have? Is it terminal?
As he waded through the uncertainties, an early safe harbor emerged in the form of a conversation with Dr. Taylor’s friend and colleague Dr. Hope Wechkin, medical director of EvergreenHealth Hospice & Palliative Care.
The two talked about their experience caring for patients facing cancer, while also navigating the more personal concept of “present” thinking - the idea that living in the moment, being fully present and accepting all outcomes can lead to healing.
It was that counsel and his own intense introspection, along with expert guidance from his care team, which helped Dr. Taylor emotionally prepare for the journey ahead.
“I accepted that, ‘Yes, I didn’t choose this. Life happens and I’m facing stage three lung cancer,’” he explained. “Once the plan was established, I thought, ‘I’m going to win this, given all the interventions that are available to us.’ The point where you can internalize and really believe that, something changes.”
Tests had found microscopic cancer cells in one lymph node beyond the tumor, which confirmed he would need radiation and chemotherapy before scheduling surgery to remove the mass.
Dr. Taylor spent six weeks undergoing daily radiation therapy treatments, coupled with chemotherapy. During each session, he visualized the therapies attacking his cancer cells and melting the tumor away, viewing each treatment as an opportunity to be present and eliminate barriers to achieving a cure.
The tumor had nearly disappeared and he was ready for surgery.
Then, even better news came following the operation: the cancer was gone.
“It was the moment I felt I had my life back,” he described.
And his journey continues.
Today, Dr. Taylor is cancer free and takes a daily medication recently approved as a targeted therapy for the specific gene mutation of his cancer to reduce the risk of recurrence.
As he returned to his role treating patients this fall, he continues to adjust to a new post-cancer perspective, and he is ever mindful of the power of present thinking.
“Clinically, it’s as successful of an outcome as one could hope for,” he said. “Emotionally, I’m working on reconciling my new normal, and I’m grateful for the deeper level of connection and empathy I now get to share with my patients.”
Dr. Taylor’s multidisciplinary team included specialists from Halvorson Cancer Center, EvergreenHealth’s partnership with Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, and providers from around the region.
Learn more about the team’s approach by visiting www.evergreenhealth.com/cancer-care.
Richard Furlong, MD, Primary Care Virginia Mason Kirkland
Hope Wechkin, MD, Palliative Care EvergreenHealth Hospice & Palliative Care
Michael Bundesmann, MD, Pulmonology EvergreenHealth Pulmonary Care
Rosanna Yeung, MD, Radiation Oncology EvergreenHealth Cancer Care
Prakash Varadarajan, MD, Medical Oncology Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
Renato Martins, MD, Thoracic, Head & Neck Oncology Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
Michal Hubka, MD, Thoracic Surgeon Virginia Mason