Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Survivor
Believe in the power of healing
Nothing put Oswald Peterson’s life into perspective like hearing he had an incurable disease and would be kept “comfortable.” So, when he was offered a type of immunotherapy for his Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), he didn’t have high expectations. The treatment response surprised him — it was almost like a miracle. He is now no evidence of disease (NED) and is living life to the fullest.
Teaching your immune system to fight cancer sounds so simple. You’d think someone would have thought of it a long time ago, right? Well, someone had, but when I received my diagnosis, there wasn’t a lot known about how immunotherapy would work with Stage IV NSCLC. I was too weak for chemotherapy or radiation therapy, so when my doctor suggested immunotherapy, the goal was not to cure. We simply hoped it’d buy me a few extra months and help others in the future.
I was only 49, but I had resigned myself that it was my time. I had blood clots in my back, fluid around my heart and in my lungs, and the cancer had spread throughout my body.
In addition, I was not in a healthy place emotionally. Two years before, one after the other in a single year, I lost my mom to ovarian cancer, my partner of 26 years, my cat and one of my best friends. Before that, I was Mr. Positive, but those losses were hard.
I was open to trying immunotherapy and began treatment as an inpatient. I had lots of time to reflect on my charmed life. As a first-generation American, a big part of life was going to my family’s homeland in Trinidad to participate in the annual Trinidad and Tobago Carnival. I wore heavy costumes — some weighing 200 pounds — and danced and partied in many celebrations. I felt blessed that I could look back and not have any regrets.
Being in a down space was not my natural state, so I chose to take an active part in my healing. Once I focused on my emotional and physical health, my mood soon followed.
Eventually, I was sent home with pain pills and oxygen. I didn’t see the oxygen tank as part of my new reality, so I didn’t use it. Instead, as I began to feel better, I started to test myself with exercise.
Before I was diagnosed, I could only last two minutes at the gym on the elliptical and stair stepper. After a month, I could do an hour on both. Even before I had cancer, that was a ridiculously long time for me on either of those machines! It became a mind game. If I could do this, the cancer surely must be gone.
I did, however, take the pain pills as directed because I’d seen my mom endure pain from her ovarian cancer, and I thought cancer meant pain. Until I went without the pills because my prescription couldn’t be filled, I didn’t realize I wasn’t having any pain. I told my doctor and we decided if I had pain, I’d take the pills. As it turns out, I had no pain and no side effects.
Another indication that the immunotherapy was working was when, at a pre-set appointment to have fluid drained from my heart and lungs, the tech told me there was no fluid after performing two ultrasounds looking for it.
A few weeks later, I followed up with another scan, but my doctor wouldn’t talk to me about what she saw. She told me not to worry about it, which I assumed was code for “It’s NOT working.” After the next scan, she said the tumors were shrinking. She’d hesitated to tell me at first in case it was a mistake, but now she was sure. A year later, I was deemed NED.
I’m still on the same treatment, though my infusions are further apart. I’ll continue as long as it works.
Today I help as many people as I can by speaking at workshops for the Cancer Research Institute and talking with patients. I’m on a patient panel for the hospital where I am treated to improve the patient experience. I also host O positive, a podcast for survivors about overcoming great odds and the power of positive thinking.
Two years after being diagnosed, I was in love again and back at Carnival in Trinidad, and my partner Jay got sucked into the fun with me. We have been swimming with the dolphins, parasailing, ziplining and more. I am taking full advantage of being alive.