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My Turn: After a lung cancer diagnosis, a learning curve

His wife credits an angel for an early diagnosis. He credits advances and the Internet for getting them through it.

November 21, 2011|By Ben Miles, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Ben Miles' wife, Marjorie, was diagnosed with lung cancer after a fall required an X-ray.
Ben Miles' wife, Marjorie, was diagnosed with lung cancer after a… (Joseph Dutra )

An angel's push is what Marjorie calls it. It happened on a weekday afternoon in June 2010. I phoned home and found my wife's voice uncharacteristically distraught. The trembling in her breath was unnerving.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"I just took a tumble down the stairs," she replied. Though she was in pain, she was able to get up and walk. Nevertheless, I sped home and called our chiropractor. He insisted that Marjorie have an X-ray so that he could determine if there were any bones broken.

We were pleased to learn that there were no broken bones. We were, however, stunned to learn that a mass was discovered on the lower lobe of my beloved's left lung.

Now, more than a year after being diagnosed with Stage 2 lung cancer, Marjorie has gone through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. And the outcome has been better than we had ever imagined.

Here are some things that we learned during this most dizzying of life challenges:

• Talk about it. Express your fears, but also your love.

• Seek information and treatment. The Internet, despite what others had advised, proved most helpful to us.

• Get at least two opinions from physicians who specialize in the disease.

• Remember that cancer statistics are dated data, lagging more than a year behind in their currency. (Plus, as our oncologist told us, the last five years have yielded revolutionary results in cancer research and treatment.)

• Keep in mind also that statistics refer to general tendencies in a population, but they tell us little about any particular individual.

Of course, the "curing" process is not easy. Marjorie still occasionally suffers post-surgical pain, though it has eased significantly over the months. She did experience some unpleasant side effects from chemo, primarily nausea (surprisingly, she never lost her hair).

Marjorie will continue to be closely monitored over the next several years. But as the experience of this startling diagnosis settles into our collective memory, we each perceive a deeper love and appreciation for one another. What's more, Marjorie's zest for living and loving is at an all-time zenith, as is mine.

Whether her fall down the stairwell was an angel's push I'll leave for others to answer. But of this much I am certain: Because of an incidental finding, coupled with recent advances in medical science, I have my angel by my side today.

Ben Miles teaches English, speech, and theater at the Art Institute of California — Orange County. He and Marjorie live in Huntington Beach.

My Turn is a forum for readers to recount an experience related to health or fitness. Submissions should be 500 words or fewer, are subject to editing and condensation and become the property of The Times. Email Read more at

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