December 20, 2019Rodney Fightmaster couldn’t figure out what was wrong. For two years, he felt miserable. He was coughing and having trouble breathing. At one point he was too sick to walk. But his tests always came back normal. His pulmonologist ordered a bronchoscope. That day, while waiting to start his test, he had a coughing fit that was so bad, the staff called for an ambulance. The next day, his bronchoscope revealed a tumor in his lung, and under the tumor was pneumonia.
The next thing Rodney remembers was waking up to see Dr. Randy Drosick standing over him. Dr. Drosick is a medical oncologist and hematologist at OHC, and a close friend of Rodney and his wife, Bonnie.
“Randy said I had non-small cell lung cancer. The next day, after a PET scan, he told us it was stage 4 lung cancer and it had spread to my liver and lymph nodes,” said Rodney. “And then the three of us cried together.”
That evening, Rodney and Bonnie went home, sat down on their couch and talked about what to do. “That evening, we prayed about it and then decided to hand it over to God. We were ready to move forward with treatment with complete faith the outcome would be God’s will,” said Rodney.
During one their initial appointment, Dr. Drosick told them about a clinical trial for which Rodney was a match.
“The clinical trial was evaluating an immunotherapy treatment. In the clinical trial, Rodney would receive chemotherapy followed by the immunotherapy drug, Keytruda, or a placebo. Rodney was an ideal candidate because of the type of cancer he had and because he tested positive for the PD-L1 protein,” Dr. Drosick explained.
“We met with Aleesa, the research nurse, who told us everything about the trial: the purpose, the process, the drugs,” said Bonnie. “The researchers tell you everything, but they don’t make the decision, you do. There is no pressure at all. When Rodney started the trial, Keytruda was still new. We knew it wasn’t yet approved by the FDA, but Rodney was able to get it now because of OHC’s participation in the clinical trial.”
Rodney and Bonnie signed on and Rodney began his treatment: a dose of chemotherapy followed by either a dose of Keytruda or a placebo. “They can’t tell you whether you’re getting the drug or the placebo, but every time they started that second dose, I would get flushed on my forehead and on top of my head, what I called my ‘little red mohawk’. Because of that reaction, we were pretty sure I was getting the Keytruda.”
Through it all, Rodney and Bonnie enjoyed their time at OHC.
“There are days when you’re here for seven hours getting your treatment. And I actually had fun on those days,” Rodney said. “The staff make it as enjoyable as possible. We joke, we laugh and sometimes we cry. The support and compassion you get at OHC is incredible. They are here with you through it all, and not because it’s their job. You can tell they are here because they want to be here to help you. I remember in the beginning, when Randy gave us the bad news, he said, ‘We’re going to beat this,’ and he meant it. They all do. They see hope in every patient.”
Rodney’s hope turned to gratitude when his last scans were labeled, “Complete response. No evidence of disease.” Now that Rodney has completed his treatment, he reflects about his journey and the most important sources of support.
“Through it all, family is the most important. We have five kids and we’re lucky they all live here. At one point my daughter was living with us, and I really don’t know how we could have done it without her. At another point, my son and his four kids were with us. And Bonnie has been with me through it all.”
“The second most important thing for me was Mrs. Grass Chicken Soup,” Rodney said with a hearty laugh. “It’s the kind that comes in a box and has those tiny noodles. For about a year, I really didn’t feel like eating except it. It saved my life.”
And the third important source of support? “Everyone at OHC,” Bonnie added. “They work so hard. Everyone here is so supportive and spiritual. They walked with us through the whole thing.”
If you would like to learn more about lung cancer, immunotherapy or OHC’s nationally-recognized clinical trial program, please visit ohcare.com.
Pictured: Jayne Fite, RN, OHC Treatment Suite Nurse, OHC patient Rodney Fightmaster, Aleesa Hubbell, BSN, RN, OHC Research Nurse, and Bonnie Fightmaster.
Pictured: OHC patient Rodney Fightmaster and Dr. Randy Drosick.