Lung Cancer Survivor

Living Life with No Regrets

In March 2008, at 52, Randall (Randy) Broad was active and in good health, except for a nagging cough. Chest X-rays and an endoscopic examination showed nothing, and according to his primary care physician, his symptoms didn’t warrant more expensive tests such as an MRI or CT. It wasn’t until he coughed up blood nearly two years later that he was sent to a pulmonologist for a bronchoscopy. A 3-centimeter mass in his lower left lobe was hiding behind his heart, and Randy was diagnosed with Stage III non-small cell lung cancer.

The news was delivered quickly and matter-of-factly. The pulmonologist referred him to a surgical oncologist, told him he had a tee time to make, shook his hand and promptly left. Still in shock at hearing the diagnosis, Randy brought a friend with him for support to meet the surgeon a few days later. This discussion also ended up being decidedly one-sided, with the surgeon dictating his plan of action, stopping only to take personal phone calls while Randy sat dumbfounded across from him. Frustrated, he turned to his friend and told him he couldn’t listen anymore. He got up to leave, and the doctor told him he wasn’t done.

“Well, I am,” Randy said. At that moment, he refused to just be along for the ride.

“I decided I needed to interview doctors, to shop around. I found someone who also had Stage III lung cancer, and she gave me a referral. I took a different friend with me this time, and the doctor spent more than an hour with me at that first visit. At the end of the appointment, he asked me what questions I had. I told him the only questions I had were the ones I didn’t know to ask. He assured me that was what he was there for. My friend looked at me on the way out and told me that I’d found the right guy. I agreed.”

At the time, Randy was divorced, and his son (13) and daughter (14) lived with their mother. He didn’t share his diagnosis with the children right away; he wanted to process it first. After all, this wasn’t what he pictured when he thought of lung cancer. He wasn’t a smoker, and he wasn’t considered high-risk. When he was ready, he told them his news and followed up by taking them to the hospital’s family chaplain. On the way home, he asked if they would like to return for another visit with the chaplain. In unison, they said, “No, we don’t need to because we know you’re going to be fine.”

After surgery to remove the tumor, he had months of chemotherapy followed by radiation therapy. He had side effects related to the treatment, including nausea, lung infections and muscles that are forever challenged. He isn’t able to golf and ski like he used to, and he is very susceptible to pneumonia.

“If I get the slightest cold, it goes straight to my lungs. It’s a bear.”

In spite of that, Randy has been cancer-free since the end of 2008 with no recurrence. His life with lung cancer changed him significantly, and not just physically. Before his diagnosis, he thought of himself as a good father, but he worked a great deal — so much that he felt he missed some very important family experiences. He decided to “live every day like he had cancer,” and he started by writing a book for his children. They were young and didn’t know him as well as he wished. They hadn’t learned his values and his principles. His primary motivation was that when he was long gone, they would have a book on their coffee tables that could remind them of him. He teamed up with a professional life coach, and in 2010, "It’s an Extraordinary Life — Don’t Miss It" was published, and Randy was well on his way to a new career in corporate storytelling.

“It all boils down to having an authentic story to tell. What inspires people most is hearing how someone overcame adversity, because people can identify. We all face hurdles, and the greater the obstacle, the greater the glory in overcoming it.”

At his leadership workshops, he tells the story of his cancer diagnosis. The experience was pivotal to him. He firmly believes if he hadn’t listened to his gut and stepped into the driver’s seat regarding his own care, he wouldn’t be here today. He ties that and other life stories to helping others realize their personal and professional goals. His audiences range from advocacy groups in the lung cancer community and corporate events to patients and caregivers who follow his blog.

Randy is extremely active in the lung cancer community, constantly working with patients and advocacy groups to promote education and empowerment. By being so involved, he’s in the precarious position of losing friends. One extraordinarily bad day, he lost three friends to lung cancer. It hit him hard. Now he doesn’t take anything for granted, and each time he talks with friends who are battling lung cancer, he talks to them as if it might be their last conversation.

“It boils down to accepting life and realizing it happens, but it affects you every time. You never get used to it.”

Still, he’s committed to showing others by example that they have the right to know their options for treatment.

“There is a lot of fear and stress when you’re newly diagnosed that you can’t overlook. If my stories help one person, then it’s worthwhile.”