Lung Cancer Survivor Wants to Take Care of His Wife

Written By:Max Londberg

Alan Benoit, a Vietnam War veteran, was having trouble breathing and was coughing excessively when he went to the hospital in December. An x-ray showed a suspicious spot on one of his lungs, and a biopsy confirmed he had cancer.

Treating the unknown

Benoit is staying at the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge facility in Kansas City while he receives treatment at the nearby VA Medical Center. A Hope Lodge community offers free, home-like accommodations for cancer patients and their caregivers whose best treatment options are away from home.

When Benoit first arrived in Kansas City, doctors performed several tests to check whether the cancer had spread throughout his body. An MRI of his head came back negative, showing the cancer had not spread to his brain. A biopsy of lymph nodes between Benoit’s lungs also showed no signs of cancer, but doctors strongly suspected the test results were wrong. They decided to treat him as if he had stage III non-small cell lung cancer, which is cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes, but not to distant sites in the body. The treatment: chemotherapy and radiation.

The lymph node biopsy can’t be repeated right away because of the risk of damaging the lungs. The fact that Benoit doesn’t know for sure if his cancer has spread has frustrated him at times. Since he’s been in treatment, he feels better, healthy even, but he won’t know until after the chemotherapy and radiation treatments are completed whether the original testing was right or wrong. He won’t know until then whether his cancer has spread, whether he’ll need more treatment, and how likely the treatment is to be successful.

“In March I asked the doctor, because I’m feeling good, I’m feeling fine, I said, ‘Can you do another CT scan to check (if the cancer has spread)?’ They said, ‘No, we can’t do that because we just did a CT scan two months ago,’” said Benoit. “I asked today, ‘How are we going to know what we’re doing?’ He said we can’t know until the end (of treatment).”

Mutual support

"I have to think ahead of the worst even though I don't want to, I have to, so that she's taken care of."

Alan Benoit

Benoit’s wife, Nen, is staying at the Hope Lodge facility as his caregiver. The two met when Benoit returned to Vietnam for a visit many years after the war. They married in September 2013.

“I don’t think there’s one day that we’ve been apart,” Benoit said. “I don’t even go to the store without her. … The VA tells you to bring a companion. (Some patients) don’t have them. Of course if I wasn’t married I’d be alone too.”

Nen has also found support in Kansas City, at the Kansas City Vietnamese Community Center. She has met with a counselor there, someone she can speak to in Vietnamese.

“We talked about his cancer,” Nen said. “She asked about how long have I been here and what do I do. She told me we’d meet again.”

Benoit said his first thought upon being diagnosed was making sure Nen would be OK, especially because she doesn’t speak English well.

“I have to think ahead of the worst even though I don’t want to, I have to, so that she’s taken care of,” Benoit said.

For now, the Benoits are hoping that his cancer, as the biopsy, MRI and CT scan have attested, never did spread. Until they find out, they will lean on each other for support.

“I only think how I want him to be happy every day,” Nen said.

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