A Seymour man who lost his left lung to cancer more than 18 months ago figures his life could have gone in one of two directions after that surgery — go home and give up on life or turn a negative into a positive.
He choose the latter, deciding lung cancer was not going to keep him down.
“God’s not done with me yet,” said Shannon McDole, 46. “When he’s ready to take me home, he will.”
McDole, who smoked for much of his adult life, said surviving cancer is about adopting a positive attitude.
Story continues below gallery
“Ninety percent of it is attitude,” he said. “You can’t give up before you’ve already begun.”
McDole, who was born and raised in Seymour, said he received his positive outlook from his grandmother, who also had battled cancer.
“There were a lot of prayers from her,” he said.
The nurses who cared for him at the time of his surgery also helped a lot.
“The nurses said, ‘The ones who give up are the ones who die,’” McDole said.
“Imagine having the flu. It was 100 times worse. Unless you have had (chemotherapy), you don’t know. I didn’t eat much, and I was taking medicine to keep from getting sick. Chemo really gets you down.” —Shannon McDole
‘We worked through it’
He had one other secret weapon — even more family.“The chemo really gets you down,” McDole said. “But my wife (Beth Ann McDole) pushed me and told me, ‘We’re going to beat this thing.’ She’s been my backbone through this thing.”
He said his mom, who has been a nurse for a little more than 35 years, was more realistic, but his wife was not buying any of it for one minute.
“We are religious, and we kept praying a lot,” McDole said. “We worked through it.”
McDole’s first inkling something might be wrong came in January 2014.“I was taking a shower, and my pinky finger and ring finger went numb,” he said. “I had pain shooting up my left arm. My first thought was stroke or a heart attack.”
McDole went to Schneck Medical Center in Seymour for an X-ray.
He said he remembers the doctor and the X-ray technician arguing about what he had, and the doctor gave him some antibiotics for pneumonia because that’s what she thought he had.
“I went to my family doctor, Ilya Schwartzman, in Columbus,” McDole said.
He said he chose Schwartzman as his family physician years ago because he doesn’t believe in pain medicine.
“Most doctors want to give you pain medicine,” he said. “I wasn’t on any medication.”
McDole said there was a time he was taking hydrocodone, and it got to be too much for his body.
“It was destroying my liver and kidneys and everything else,” he said. “And it was making me lethargic and not wanting to do anything.”
A CT scan showed he did not have pneumonia but revealed there was something there, so Schwartzman hooked McDole up with the Lung Institute at Columbus Regional Health.
A PET scan showed he had cancer, McDole said.
“They wanted to go in and get a piece to find out if it was cancer,” he said. “They wanted to check my esophagus. They thought it was just a little spot on my upper left lobe.”
The surgeon, Dr. Sorin Pusca, gave McDole a little advance warning about what seemed to be a simple surgery.
“‘This is not to make you look good,’ he said,” McDole said. “‘It’s to save your life.’”
Pusca also told McDole that because he believed his lung cancer was still at Stage 2B that he would operate.
“If it had been in Stage 3, he said, ‘I won’t operate,’” McDole said.
The last smoke
The surgery scheduled for Feb. 21, 2014, was supposed to last an hour and a half, but it turned into seven and a half hours, he said.McDole said he had his last cigarette shortly before he went into the hospital for his surgery.
“Smoking is very, very addictive,” he said. “I thought I was going to be like my dad. He quit when he was around 47 or 48. I was 43.”
“The cancer showed up, and said, ‘No. You’re going to quit before then,’” he said.
Looking back, he wishes he’d never picked up cigarettes.
“Back then, everyone was smoking,” he said.
The surgery revealed that his whole left side was filled with cancer, McDole said.
“Dr. Pusca said I was pretty lucky because the cancer almost got a hold of my voice box, but it didn’t,” he said. “I said, ‘Thank you. I like to talk.’”
‘It didn’t compute’
After waking up from surgery, his wife told him the surgeon had taken a lung.“It didn’t compute,” he said. “I was in IC for three days when I first woke up. I was pretty much drugged up and was sleeping a lot.”
When the doctor confirmed that they had removed his left lung, McDole said he just cried.
“I wondered what the rest of my life was going to be like and what I was going to do,” he said.
The nurses told him respiratory pain is the worst pain you can have, McDole said. He agreed.
“I just wanted to lay around,” he said.
The doctor was determined not to permit that, however.
“He came in and told me I was going to get up and move around,” McDole said.
“He threatened me and said he was going to have to come back and scrape me out. At first, walking killed me.”
The doctor challenged McDole and said he couldn’t leave until he could show he was ready to go home. He began by walking around the nurses station.
“In three days, I was walking around the hallways by myself,” he said.
McDole did so well, in fact, that he didn’t have to undergo respiratory therapy.
“I did so well they said I didn’t need it,” he said.
He would spend just one week in the hospital before going home.
Going home didn’t mean he was fully recovered.
“The real problems started when I slept at night,” McDole said.
The doctor had told him not to sleep on his right side.
The problem with that was McDole had always slept on that side, but if he continued to do so, it could affect the healing process and his breathing.
“I thought that was the worst of it,” he said.
But he didn’t take into account the radiation and chemotherapy he would have to undergo because not all of the cancer could be removed by surgery.
“I couldn’t do radiation for three weeks for fear of breaking the incision, so I did chemotherapy,” he said.
“Imagine having the flu. It was 100 times worse. Unless you have had (chemotherapy), you don’t know. I didn’t eat much, and I was taking medicine to keep from getting sick. Chemo really gets you down.”
Back in action
His wife was his “backbone” through the chemo and radiation treatments, he said.“She would tell me, ‘We’re going to beat this thing,’” McDole said.
The doctor told McDole he needed to start walking and getting outside for whatever activities he felt he could; he went out and used a push mower to cut his grass.
“My motto was, ‘That grass isn’t going to cut itself,’” he said.
The loss of his left lung left him disabled and no longer able to keep his job as a team leader at Enkei at Walesboro.
His wife, however, still had her job at Aisin.
Although she worked, Beth McDole helped him with his recovery as much as she could, and his children and other family members, including siblings and their spouses, helped out, he said.
“Anyone who has cancer has to have someone there to help,” McDole said.
Because of advances in technology, McDole was able to undergo radiation treatment to get the cancer they couldn’t get during the surgery.
“It was about 3 percent, and it was wrapped around the nerves,” he said. “They had to pinpoint it now.”
They did get the remaining cancer, he said.
The heat and humidity still get to McDole.“My favorite time of year now is Oktoberfest,” he said. “It’s cool. You can walk around, talk to all your friends and see all the food.”
McDole had six surgeries before the one that led to the loss of his left lung.
In 1991, he had his appendix removed, and in 1994, he had a ruptured disc removed from his back. In 2004, he had surgery to remove a bone spur from the ruptured disc surgery and a similar surgery for more bone spurs in 2005.
In between those two surgeries, he had heart surgery to remove a growth that had been on top of his heart since birth. In 2009, he had another surgery to repair his back.
“I figured nothing can get worse than that, and then here came lung cancer,” he said. “Yes, it can.”
He said despite all of the surgeries, he feels great.
It has been about two and a half years since the lung cancer surgery, and McDole was told if he goes five years without cancer showing back, they will consider him cured.
“I just want everybody who has cancer to stay positive,” he said. “That’s the main thing.”
Grandchildren: Four with a fifth one on the way