Overcoming cancer on faith
His oncologist says being cancer-free after Stage 4 cancer is remarkable and rare.
By TERRI BRYCE REEVES
Published July 14, 2007
DUNEDIN - The doctor looked up from the test results and told Roy Livingstone he had cancer in both lungs and two lymph nodes.
It was Stage 4.
"What happens when you get to stage 5?" Livingstone asked.
The doctor pointed upward.
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It was October 2004 when Livingstone heard the news.
He prepared to die.
He got his affairs in order, knowing each birthday, every holiday would likely be his last.
He willingly underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatments just to buy a bit more time and comfort.
His wife, Dorris, apparently had other plans.
"We're going to beat this," she said.
Apparently, she was right.
Nearly three years after receiving the grim news, Livingstone is cancer-free.
Dr. Hitesh Patel, his Clearwater oncologist, said such an outcome is "very rare" for stage 4 lung cancer, the last stage where the disease has spread to the second lobe or other parts of the body. It's especially remarkable considering Livingstone's age - 84.
"It's amazing," Patel said. "Generally, the two-year survival rate is about 20 percent and he's approaching three years, where it's about 5 percent."
Livingstone is not only surviving, but Patel confirmed, his recent CAT scan did not detect any active cancer in his body. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths for men and women in the United States.
Patel thinks it was Livingstone's fighting spirit and advancements in cancer treatment that led to his success.
"We have newer chemotherapies which are very effective and have almost no incidence of nausea," he said. "It can make a big difference in the quality of life for the elderly."
"Naturally, I was quite surprised," Livingstone said about the good news. "And thankful."
Still, he said he wonders about all the younger people who deserve a second lease on life and don't get it.
"Why me?" he asks.
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On December 7, 2005, the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the St. Petersburg Times profiled Livingstone, a World War II POW.
Even with death looming, his eyes sparkled as he recalled how he parachuted out of a spinning, burning plane, escaped from a German prison train, ran through cold forests half naked, and even posed as a girl in a romantic interlude to prevent detection.
The former staff sergeant with the Army Air Forces recalled facing starvation, beatings, interrogations, the flu and dysentery.
It was as a POW that he became a smoker -- cigarettes were about the only luxury they had. Soon, the habit became a heavy one -- he was smoking up to three packs of Lucky Strikes a day and continued the habit for 30 years.
Livingstone ran an ad agency, became publisher of several sports magazines and currently serves on the board of directors for a POW foundation. He met Dorris at a POW convention in 1999.
He has faced other life-threatening experiences: a serious car wreck; a hurricane when he was on a 90-foot schooner; triple bypass surgery 14 years ago.
Through it all, Livingstone said he never feared death.
"It's like a calm that comes over you."
Today, his lungs remain scarred and his immune system is compromised. But he walks, plays golf, and is working to gain back the 37 pounds he lost from three bouts of pneumonia.
Dorris, 75, said she knew all along her husband would beat the cancer.
"We've only had seven years of marriage. I have enough faith in God to know He wouldn't do this to us, not at this time."
Livingstone attributes his recovery to faith -- faith in his doctors, their treatments, family and friends, the power of prayer, and mostly, faith in the human spirit.
"There is something very special about the human spirit," he said. "It keeps you going, keeps you trying harder, keeps you alive. I feel it has just as much to say about what happens to us as any deity."
Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org