Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog




CRI ImmunoAdvocate Perspective: Lung Cancer Survivor Oswald Shares His Immunotherapy Experience

No cancer patient has the same story or experience, but knowledge and self-advocacy help every patient on their journey. As a lung cancer survivor, Oswald Peterson was excited to share lessons on choosing the best care provider, trying new treatments, and getting the support you need along your cancer journey at the 2020 CRI Virtual Immunotherapy Patient Summit.

In January 2017, Oswald was severely ill and refused to accept the diagnosis of his local urgent care. He trekked all the way NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center from his home in Brooklyn, where he was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer. He noted that “sometimes the closest options may not be the best options,” and urged patients and caregivers in the audience to advocate for the best possible care available to them.

He had nursed his mother during her battle with cancer, so he thought he knew the options that lay ahead: chemotherapy or radiation. However, his doctor recommended a newly approved immunotherapy based on an analysis of his tumor’s biomarkers.

In February 2017, he received his first infusion of the PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor Keytruda. After his second, scans showed that the cancer shrank dramatically. He was able to regain healthy weight, resume work at his nonprofit, and get back to the gym. Oswald is now cancer-free and receives immunotherapy treatment every nine weeks. He is passionate about spreading the word about cancer immunotherapy research and treatment.

CRI ImmunoAdvocate Perspective Session Transcript

Tamron Hall: It's my pleasure to introduce Oswald Peterson, a lung cancer survivor, and a CRI ImmunoAdvocate who will talk about his cancer diagnosis and what it was like to be treated with immunotherapy. Oswald, thank you for sharing your story with us today.

Oswald Peterson: Thank you Tamron, and thank you for lending your talents to such a worthy cause as Cancer Research Institute. Good morning, everyone. My name is Oswald Peterson, and I am an ImmunoAdvocate for Cancer Research Institute. And today, I'll be taking you to and through my story and journey through my cancer diagnosis, as well as my recovery and the amazing results afforded me through immunotherapy. My life basically started out as anyone else. I was a happy kid. I had a very close relationship to my mother. We were basically joined at the hip. It was an amazing experience growing up with a mother that loved you as dearly as mine did, and put everything in to raising a child and being such a supportive mother. In my early years, I used to be a dancer and a model, and I was always very, very active and very, very… Doing all that I could.

And I was an active and very, very energetic child, I would say. My mother tried to find anything that she could do to keep me occupied. One day, I fell into a dance class and that was it. I later on danced in several musical productions, traveled the world, as well as modeling across the country and as well as in Europe. In 2013, my life started to take a very dramatic change, and the reason why I bring this up is because I do believe that your emotional, mental, and spiritual state has a lot to do with your physical state. So in 2013, my mother was diagnosed with a very advanced and very, very aggressive form of ovarian cancer. In 2014, that cancer got worse. Also in 2014, my partner of, at that time 25 years, had a debilitating seizure. 2015, I lost both my mother and my partner, and needless to say, I wasn't really in a great place mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.

In 2016, I felt that I had lost so much that I did not know what I was going to do, but I was determined that I was going to keep a positive outlook and a positive mind, and I was going to pick up myself and move forward with what was my new normal. So I anticipated 2017 was going to have to be my year. Unfortunately, time had something else in mind. Moving forward. On January 1st, 2017, I woke up with a debilitating pain in my back. I could hardly walk across the floor. Every breath was labored. My friends had suggested that I do to a doctor and check out, because it was obvious that I had become very, very sick very, very quickly. Upon my friend's suggestion, I went to an urgent care.

Now, I want to speak specifically on where you choose to go to get treatment. There are different hospitals all over the country, and most hospitals have a specialty. So choosing a hospital that has the technology, the talent, the resources to give you and introduce you to new innovative treatments is one of the best things that you can always do. I always say sometimes the closest option might not be the best option. After going to the urgent care, the urgent care had told me that I possibly had pneumonia, or I was dealing with a form of COPD. They gave me antibiotics and sent me home. Now, my regular doctor at NewYork-Presbyterian at the time was out of the country doing work in Africa. She returned about seven days later, and I spoke to her, and she could definitely hear that I was not feeling well, and suggested that I come to the hospital.

I called a car, and I told the car where I was going. The driver was so concerned about my condition that every time we got near a hospital, he constantly asked me, "Are you sure you want to go this far," because I'm quite sure he did not want to deal with someone not doing well in his cab. That would have definitely have not ended a good day for him. When I arrived at the hospital, my doctor met me downstairs by the emergency room, and instantly realized the dire state that I was in. My breathing was very labored. I couldn't walk, I had no strength, and it was obvious that I was already starting to lose weight. After a few days, they admitted me into the hospital and ran tests, and they had decided that maybe they may start to look at other causes such as cancer. Moving forward.

So prior to the diagnosis, I was living a regular life. There were, however, some signs that I look back in hindsight that were telling me that there were things I should have been concerned about. Prior to me getting horribly sick, I started to notice that I was having a harder time at the gym. I was having aches and pains. It was definitely harder going up and down steps. Dancing became more difficult, but I had chalked all that up to I was just getting older, and these were the signs of me aging. So when I heard the words "cancer," those words seem to change everything in your life. I always say that when you get the diagnosis and they say that it's troublesome for cancer, everything after that kind of sounds like Charlie Brown's teacher, because so many thing goes through your head that you really don't hear what the doctor is saying.

When they came back and told me that it wasn't only cancer, but that it was a very aggressive form of stage 4 lung cancer, I knew my time was limited. At this time, the doctors went into the extent of my cancer, telling me that my left lung was basically one large cancerous tumor. I had cancerous nodules in my chest. I had blood clots in my back. The cancer had metastasized and spread throughout my body. It was in my lymph nodes, and it had settled in my spine. Both my lungs and my heart were filling up with fluid, which was the thing contracting my breathing. So I was in a very dire situation. At that point, the doctors knew that, due to my situation, that my body could not withstand chemo or radiation. After dealing with my mother's cancer, I know stage 4 advanced lung cancer that my time was limited.

At this time, I had really just accepted that this was possibly going to be my time. I had lost my mother, I had lost my partner, and I just figured out that it was my time, but I had to stay optimistic. I had to make sure that I tried to keep a positive outlook, because I always believed that somehow the universe will make a way when there is no way. One day, a doctor came in and said the words that changed my life, that he wanted to introduce me to a new treatment that was being developed called immunotherapy. Now, I want to speak to having the courage of trying new treatments, having the courage of trying new vaccines. At the present time, we are living in a world that there is many concerns about trying new therapies. I have to say that if I did not remain optimistic and obviously think that there was a way that I would get better, I might've said no to trying the immunotherapy, and I would not be here to share my story with you today.

My immunotherapy is so easy, so amazing that I go, I do my treatment, and later on that day, I continued my day as nothing ever happened. The great thing about the immunotherapy was that I had no side effects. Shortly after getting my first dose in the hospital, I was released from the hospital. I came home, I went back to the gym, I started doing my regular routines. But I knew that I had reached a road mark when I looked down on the elliptical and realized that I had done an hour straight, no stopping, full speed, and I felt my lungs breathing in full, deep breaths. The immunotherapy really, really allowed me to improve my health and to get back to living my regular life.

Now, I'm back to living my life, and I'm back to enjoying my carnivals. During the time that I was in the hospital was actually the time that Trinidad Carnival goes on. I was in the hospital from January through March, and I thought at that time that I would never experience another carnival again, because my situation was that dire. Immunotherapy has given me back my life. It's not only giving me a new lease on life, but it's given me a new appreciation for life. I often say that you never really appreciate something until you almost lose it, and being so close to death, it gives me such a new appreciation for life. So that's why now, every year when I'm in carnival, I celebrate my new lease on life that has been given to me through immunotherapy and through the research done by places such as Cancer Research Institute. Moving Forward.

Now today, I have the opportunity to travel, see the world, experience a full, full, full, full life due to immunotherapy. I have to say that we have to be open to trying new treatments, trying the new things that are coming out, and seeking out the best treatment that may be available in our area. Always remember where you go is so important to the treatment that you receive, and I was fortunate to go to NewYork-Presbyterian hospital where their cooperation with Cancer Research Institute led me to immunotherapy. Moving forward.

So I just want to touch on a few simple things before I go. Number one, I think we should always research the best place to go, the best available options. As I said earlier, I took a cab all the way from Brooklyn to Washington Heights in Manhattan, which is about an hour and a half ride, simply because I felt that that's where I was going to get the best treatment and most likely the best diagnosis. Also, number two, always have an advocate with you. As I said, sometimes we are inundated with so much information when we are sick that sometimes we miss things, sometimes we don't hear things. As I said, when I first heard the word "cancer," everything after that kind of became a blur. I'm a big advocate of always having someone there to listen with you, to maybe hear things that you might've missed, or ask questions that you may not want to ask or you may not feel that you should ask.

And also, number three and the most important thing, is never, ever, ever give up hope. You have to be optimistic. You have to stay positive. Setting a positive mindset sets your life up for success no matter what you're doing, whether it's your health, your job, your career, or your life. I would like to thank Cancer Research Institute for the opportunity to speak with you today. I'd like to thank Tamron Hall for once again lending her amazing talents to our efforts, and I wish all of you a happy, healthy holidays. For Cancer Research Institute, I'm Oswald Peterson.

Tamron Hall: Thank you so much, Oswald, for sharing such an inspiring and empowering story.

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