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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Larry Conley

Lung cancer - Stage II

This testimonial includes a description of this patient’s actual medical results. Those results may not be typical or expected for the particular disease type described in this testimonial. You should not expect to experience these results.

View CTCA treatment results for lung cancer

My story

I am a traveler. I have always enjoyed jumping in my car and finding adventure. I have also been open to new opportunities, like sailing my nephew’s new boat from San Diego to Hawaii. Some may say that I’ve completed my bucket list, but I’ve always found something new to add on to the list. For example, I’ve flown on the Concord to Paris, and I have traveled to Ireland with my cousin.

I very much believe in families spending a lot of time together and taking vacations. I try to plan at least seven vacations a year. When my children were younger, I took them on vacation as much as possible. Sometimes we would travel in a motor home. Other times we would find the perfect spot and camp out under the stars. It didn’t matter where we slept, as long as we were together. We would hike, snow ski, boat—the list goes on.

My family has never been conventional; I’ve raised or partially raised 10 kids. I had three of my own, and when my sister passed away, I took in her two children. Through marriage, I’ve been a stepfather to five additional children. I love these kids.

Over 30 years ago, I started my own business. It began as a carpet cleaning business. I worked hard and grew the business to become a mold, fire and flood restoration business. I am now retired, and I sold the company to three of my children.

I have been married for 16 years to my wife, Debbie. We met at church, and she brought her two boys into my life. It is such a blessing to have her and her kids in my life. I am also blessed by 10 grandkids, two of whom are on the way.

But the good parts of my story come with the bad. In 2011, while scuba diving in Florida, I had trouble breathing. It limited my activity that day, and I headed home, cutting the trip short. I went to go see a doctor and was diagnosed with asthma and bronchitis. But treatments weren’t helping me get better. I saw a pulmonologist, and he put me on a C-PAP machine, which did help with my sleep apnea. But that still wasn’t the problem. After additional tests, it was determined that I had stage II lung cancer.

When I heard the words, “you have cancer,” I was shocked and confused. I was scheduled to catch a plane for an annual trip to Hawaii, and at my doctor’s suggestion, I decided to go. I did call my family and tried to lie to them. I told them there was nothing to worry about and it was just a benign tumor. I got away with the lie until my daughter called me out. I confessed.

When I returned from Hawaii, I went to a surgeon, and he removed 40 percent of my lung. At the time, chemotherapy and radiation were not recommended. I continued going in for follow-up appointments, and then in 2013, I learned I had a cancer reoccurrence. My prognosis did not look favorable, and I decided to get a second opinion.

Finding a new opportunity

One day, I happened to catch a TV commercial for Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA). I called the number on the screen and spoke to an Oncology Information Specialist. Within days, I was scheduled to go to the CTCA® hospital in Zion, Illinois.

At CTCA, I learned that the cancer was stage IV and had spread to my brain. That same day, I went in for neurosurgery. When I awoke, I was surrounded by 12 members of my family, four of whom had driven 600 miles to be there. I was released a few days after that, but I knew I wouldn’t rest if I went home. So I got in my convertible and took a 2,500-mile drive to see some friends. When I returned to CTCA, I had radiation treatments to my brain.

Evolution of cancer care

What impressed me most at CTCA was that I felt that my medical oncologist never cut corners. I feel that he did everything he possibly could to find a solution. For example, he recommended I have genomic testing performed to try to identify cancer mutations that were driving the growth of my tumors. As I understand it, knowing these mutations would help better target treatment therapies to my cancer. Through this testing, I learned I had the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) mutation. My medical oncologist was glad to know this because he said there were targeted therapies for the ALK mutation that may help me fight the cancer.

In August 2013, I started on the targeted therapy, crizotinib (Xalkori®). I was doing well on the medication until April 2014, when the disease began to progress. Just days earlier, another drug, ceritinib (Zykadia®), received accelerated approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for patients with ALK-positive metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) whose disease had progressed or who did not tolerate crizotinib. My medical oncologist was aware of this newer targeted drug and switched me to ceritinib.

In May 2015, while on a fishing trip in South Carolina, I woke up one morning and my eyesight was blurry. I lost half my vision. I called my medical oncologist, and he told me to return to the hospital in Illinois as soon as possible. I was diagnosed with new tumors in my brain. They were all necrotic tumors, meaning they were not active. I underwent another brain surgery. I don’t really remember much about it. I tend to do that with negative times. I don’t hang onto bad memories because I only want to remember and hold onto the good ones. I do remember that after the second brain surgery, I took off to New York City and Niagara Falls. It was there that I was able to rest and recover. I felt peace and comfort among the rushing waves.

Then in May 2016, the drug ceritinib stopped working for me. I soon started on alectinib Alecensa®), which just four months earlier, in December 2015, received accelerated FDA approval for patients with ALK-positive metastatic NSCLC whose disease progressed or who did not tolerate ceritinib. I was amazed at how quickly CTCA was able to change my treatment plan to the latest option available. It showed me that CTCA was aware of ongoing treatment advancements.  As soon as the next generation of drug was available and I was no longer responding to the one drug, my doctors were presenting me new treatment options.

Continuing on my adventure

In June 2017, I started chemotherapy, and I return to CTCA every three weeks for treatment. My quality of life is good, and I rarely feel ill. I continue to battle cancer, but I won’t let it hold me back. I know that if this treatment stops working for me, too, my care team will help me explore other possible options.

I look back on my lifetime, and I try not to focus on regrets. Sometimes, I wonder if my career as a mold inspector may have caused the cancer. So I tell my children who have taken over the business about the importance of wearing protective clothing and equipment. I also tell everyone I meet about CTCA and what the doctors and clinicians have done for me. I tell people, if you are diagnosed with cancer, get a second opinion. I truly believe that if you have cancer, it is important to go somewhere that only focuses on cancer.

Today, I am working on taking life one day at a time while also planning for the future. I am still actively traveling. My cancer experience has given me a new perspective in life. I have goals, dreams and milestones that I want to reach. Ever since I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in sixth grade, I have wanted to float down the Mississippi river and see the many historic riverfront towns, unique restaurants and historical sites. Every day, I fill my life with adventures and stories to tell. I don’t know where I am going next, but I know I will never stop exploring.