Positivity Helps Lung Cancer Patient Overcome Adversity

Treatment with Tecentriq helps successfully clear advanced lung cancer.

Married with 2 kids, Bob Amendola seemed to have it all. Life was going smoothly as he climbed the corporate ladder, until one day his world was shattered after receiving life-changing news: he had stage 4 adenocarcinoma lung cancer and it had metastasized to his brain.

The Northford, CT, resident was an active 38-year-old at the time of his diagnosis. Although he was a smoker, Amendola was active and never missed his annual physicals. However, everything changed the day he developed a painful lump in his collar bone that led to his diagnosis with cancer.

“We asked how long we would have and he [physician] said 6 months to a year, if you’re lucky,” Amendola said. “When I broke the news to my parents, I was very disappointed in myself. I felt like I let people down, including my wife and the whole family.”

At the time, Amendola had a 5-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter. Because of their young ages, they did not fully understand the magnitude of what was going on.

“The kids were so little,” said Amendola’s wife Julie. “Of course they would hear you on the phone, and I would just tell them that daddy has boo-boos, and we’re going to go to the doctor to get daddy’s boo-boos fixed. They didn’t really ask questions because they were so little, but we tried to keep everything as normal as possible.”

After the diagnosis, both Amendola and his physician decided on an aggressive approach for treatment.

“The day I was diagnosed, I looked at the oncologist, and I’m like, ‘listen, you can tell me 6 months to a year, but I’m going to tell you that we’re here to grow old together and we’re going to grow old together,” Amendola said. “So, I don’t care what you have to do, you have to be as aggressive as possible. I don’t care if I’m on the floor everyday throwing up, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

Amendola started treatment with Cisplatin and gemcitabine (Gemzar), and underwent radiation within the first year. He was doing chemotherapy for 5 to 6 years between the different treatment regimens.

“Some of it was working, some of it wasn’t,” Amendola said. “We’ve had some up and down results. We would switch cocktails —–as we referred to them–– switched the recipes up. Some I’d stall for a while.”

At one point, Amendola was taken off of chemotherapy because his physician felt they were giving him more toxins than it was worth.

During treatment, Amendola experienced exhaustion, his body ached all the time, and he would become nauseous and constipated. Although he didn’t go completely bald from the chemotherapy, Amendola’s hair became really thin, and his skin color was a little chalky.

Unfortunately, 8 years into treatment, his cancer was growing and began to spread to new areas in his body. Since Amendola had already undergone all the standard treatments, his oncologists referred him to Yale University.

Amendola was enrolled into 2 clinical trials. The first was a short one lasting for 3 to 4 months, but was stopped when he didn’t see any results. The second was a clinical trial with the cancer immunotherapy atezolizumab (Tecentriq).

In preparation for the Tecentriq trial, Amendola’s oncologist had him stop all drugs for about 6 to 8 months, so that he was clean for the trial.

When it comes to enrolling in clinical trials, some patients may have trepidations because they feel as though they are a guinea pig. But Amendola did not experience such fears.

“To be honest with you, if you’re given 6 months to a year (to live), and all of your other options are out, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind,” Amendola said. “It didn’t matter what side effects were there, because I figured I’d been through the worst already with the chemo.

“If it worked, it worked, and if it didn’t, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. If it worked, I’m a homerun and I can give back, if it doesn’t work, then we move on to the next potential trial that may or may not work.”

Amendola was enrolled in the Tecentriq trial for 1 year. As far as adverse events, it was for the most part, “smooth sailing.” But he did experience fatigue, where he would sleep most of the day. He also had hypothyroidism, but once these issues were treated, he did not experience zero any further adverse events.

At the start of the trial, Amendola had a tumor growing between his ribs, right in the center of his chest.

“When I started the trial, that lump probably protruded about an inch and a half to almost 2 inches out,” Amendola said. “Probably the second or third treatment in I felt it and said, ‘hey this kind of feels like it’s shrinking.’”

After 6 treatments, the lump was almost gone, having shrunk by 50%. Amendola continued to get PET scans, and eventually the scan came out clean.

“They didn’t see anything, so we considered ourselves free, free of disease,” Amendola said. “I felt elated, it was a huge relief.”

Dealing with cancer and other diseases can take a toll on a person’s mental health. To avoid falling into despair, Amendola tried to keep a positive outlook.

“There’s no reason to get upset, and continue to get upset, and not show positivity,” Amendola said. “Good things will happen, and if they don’t, we just have to take the lumps as they come. Move on and deal with what we have in front of us. I made it a mindset of myself for when people asked me how I was doing, I would always say something positive.

“I’ve always been a pretty positive guy all my life. I generally don’t look at the glass half empty, the glass is half full for me no matter what. If I’m not successful at something, I’ll continue to work hard and try be successful with things, so for me it’s kind of like a lifestyle.”

While Amendola worked to stay positive, some days he did feel the immense weight of fighting the disease pulling him down.

“I had to talk myself off the ledge a few times, per se,” Amendola said. “There’s days where you’re not feeling so favorable, and you’ve got to pull yourself out of that and say, ‘Listen, I’m not here to sob every day. I’m here to live life and be the best that I can be.’

“You’re faced with adversity every day, it’s all [about] how you take it and how you roll with it. I’m not saying I don’t get upset, but it’s more of a mindset for me than anything else. As long as I’m here, I’ve got to be positive. I stay positive for the kids and my family.”

Amendola’s advice for others who are newly diagnosed is to keep your head in a positive place and be proactive when it comes to managing treatment for the disease.

“Stay positive, be your own advocate, and don’t leave any stone unturned,” Amendola said. “There is only so much that the doctors can do for you with what they’ve got, so you’ve got to be an advocate for yourself. And try to stay off the internet, for crying out loud. That’s the hardest part about the whole thing. It’s more gloom than anything else. Try and surround yourself with positive people. There’s hope, there’s hope out there.”

Amendola also believes it’s important to give back to the medical community.

“Anything that you can give back, certainly do, because that’s how we progress in the medical field, to continually give back,” Amendola said. “I try to give back as much as I can medically, donated tissue, whatever the case may be. If somebody did that for me so that I could be here today, that’s my goal, to do that for somebody so that they could be here today.”

He also advises patients fighting cancer to not give up doing what they love and to never put their life on hold due to a diagnosis.

“I worked a full-time job, and I actually got promoted through the whole thing,” Amendola said. “It was a lot of work, but you’ve got to continue life. Just because you got a diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean you’re over. There is hope.”