ORLANDO – Pete was 58 years old when he was treated for a skin condition called t-cell lymphoma. His battle with the illness started in January 2004, when Pete was first diagnosed with lung cancer.
He recalled the gut-wrenching emotions he first went through when he started on this unexpected and unwanted journey.
”At first, I felt kind of hurt,” Pete said. “I said, ‘Why me?’ Then I started thinking, ‘Why not me?’ I can’t change it. I just have to deal with it the best I can.”
As it turns out, cancer did not take Pete’s life. He died on Oct. 15, 2008, from heart problems unrelated to his cancer. Before he did, Pete said he wanted to demonstrate to his friends, family and neighbors that he was not a cancer victim, but a man who could demonstrate courage against such a difficult battle.
“Let me still make history day by day,” he said.
Pete’s story is one of nine portraits of people with lung cancer now on display at the Orlando Public Library. Known simply as the “Faces of Lung Cancer Photo Exhibit,” this is in one sense a cautionary tale for those who either are smoking, or may be thinking about taking on the habit.
Sponsored by the Moffitt Cancer Center, the exhibit is a collection of nine photos and personal essays from lung cancer patients and their caregivers, accompanied by education materials provided by Moffitt. Those include information on the Circle of Hope Cancer Support Group and the Free to Breathe National Walk Week.
Based in Tampa, Moffitt works on the prevention and cure of cancer, in areas like patient care, research and education. It is a part of the National Cancer Institute’s Comprehensive Cancer Centers, and Moffitt focuses on the development of early stage research and scientific discoveries to benefit patients.
“Since our first patient admission in October 1986, Moffitt physicians, scientists and staff members have worked together to establish a tradition of excellence offered in an atmosphere characterized by kindness, caring and hope,” the agency’s website notes. “Our vision is to be the leader in scientific discovery and translation into compassionate care, cures, and prevention of cancer for our community and the world.”
Part of that mission is educational as well, which is why Moffitt put on the photo exhibit at the Orlando Public Library at 101 E. Central Boulevard in downtown Orlando.
The profiles, though, have a lot to do with courage and the triumph of the human spirit in fighting a major illness.
Betty, 61, got her lung cancer diagnosis in June 2005, after experiencing a persistent cough that she initially thought was sinusitis. She was wrong.
Betty knew what it was like to be on this journey – her mother had died of liver cancer and her nephew was battling colon cancer at the same time.
What helped her cope, she added, was also her extended family – the physicians and nursing staff who were treating her.
“It’s like family because my oncologist and the staff, the ladies at the desk, the nurses and all, they are just like family to me,” Betty said in her profile. “I have such a good caring doctor, and his handshake and smile keeps me doing day by day in every way possible. I really am truly blessed.”
Huong is a native of Vietnam, and mother of two children who made ends meet by selling homemade desserts on local streets. But she worried deeply about her children’s future when a chest x-ray taken in 2000 showed she had a malignant tumor.
She had surgery to remove the tumor and part of right lung. And it was her passion for her children that kept her fighting.
“I love life and I love my children, too, so I need to continue surviving,” she said.
Stanley was 72 when he was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer. Like many other cancer patients, he would learn to cherish every day as a gift.
“I’m proud that I can do the things, in general, that I can do today,” he said. “I can work in the yard. I can play my bagpipes.”
The exhibit continues through Nov. 30. To learn more, call 407-835-7323.
To learn more about the Free to Breathe National Walk Week — it was held in Orlando on Nov. 10, and nationally has raised more than $5.6 million to help support lung cancer research and awareness since 2006 — log on to Free to Breathe.
Contact us at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.