Ask anyone who has battled lung cancer and they will tell you the experience changed their life. No matter the circumstances, the avalanche of tests, treatments, research, and planning can leave patients feeling hopeless. AJ Patel, just 47 when diagnosed in 2013, is no exception. Through a series of self-described “divine experiences,” however, AJ says he now lives a fuller, happier, and more hope-filled life than he ever thought possible.
AJ’s lung cancer journey began with the frequent need to clear his throat – a frustration compounded by the fact his doctor insisted there was nothing wrong. AJ was in good shape, running 20 miles a week and refereeing semi-professional soccer. But his worsening throat clearing had started to impact his daily life. It wasn’t until he switched to a new doctor and demanded imaging tests (without knowing which tests to ask for) that an x-ray revealed a nodule on his lung. After a three month waiting period, the nodule had not changed and he underwent a CT scan and a needle biopsy.
Within days, AJ would be told, “You have lung cancer.”
"My knees collapsed under me. I was in good shape. I never smoked. I was prejudiced and ignorant that you needn’t be a smoker to get lung cancer. I was terrified."
Further testing would reveal “significant” tumors in his brain.
Things got worse before AJ showed any signs of improvement. He shut down, paralyzed with fear and anxiety. To make matters worse, AJ and his young family had recently relocated from the UK to Southern California. This meant he was without his support system – something truly imperative for survival and recovery. With no strength to fight, AJ began to contemplate suicide.
In times of sickness, it is often said that there is someone who disappoints you and someone who surprises you with their support. In AJ’s case, the surprise was an uncle with whom he had a difficult relationship. Upon learning of AJ’s diagnosis, this uncle stepped up to the plate, got AJ back on track and made a promise that he kept: “I will call you every day.” And so a plan was put in place to get AJ from diagnosis to a plan of action. AJ considers this the first of a series of divinities that changed the course not only of his treatment but his life.
As time went on, AJ was blessed to have found two other mentors. They inspired hope in his lung cancer journey. They pulled him up when he was down, pushed him forward when he was stuck, and served as beacons of light at every turn. Through his “divinities” he learned how to manage the doctors, advocate for himself, and protect his psyche. And, somewhere along the line, he learned how to embrace his diagnosis. He credits these people with helping him to make what he considers his best decision: to have brain surgery. This way, doctors were able to obtain a tumor sample which, when sent for testing, came back ROS1. As a result, AJ was able to undergo new targeted therapies that are responsible for keeping him alive and well, even six years later.
“Cancer is here, part of my existence. If you give it possibility, it will reflect back. Divinity appears to me every day. So many things that I never noticed and took for granted; going on a walk and becoming curious of every moment, from my gait to the feel of the breeze, or how my child’s hair is moving. This new depth of consciousness has allowed me to live a life better than I could ever have wished for."
AJ doesn’t deny his struggles with debilitating fear, depression, and anxiety. He will tell you that, unequivocally, he has evolved as a person and truly considers his lung cancer diagnosis to have been a gift.
“The life I had was all about possessions, I was easily hurt and looking for a pat on the back. I was constantly looking for physical things that would fulfill me. Since my diagnosis, I learned so much about myself and how I, like my divinities, can enrich someone else’s life.”