Finding Purpose Amid Health Challenges
- Professional dancer Oswald Peterson, 56, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2017. He managed to find much-needed hope with immunotherapy.
- His care team at NewYork-Presbyterian didn’t consider him a candidate for chemotherapy because he was too weak to withstand side effects.
- Immunotherapy has been shown to improve survival in lung cancer and is a commonly used treatment. This form of treatment is used routinely for stage 3 and 4 lung cancer.
Peterson defied the odds when he underwent immunotherapy, which harnesses your body’s immune system to attack and kill cancer cells. Immunotherapy has been shown to improve survival in lung cancer and is a commonly used treatment. This form of treatment is used routinely for stage 3 and 4 lung cancer.Read More
“You don’t know what to do you don’t know what the outcome is going to be. You hear the word cancer, and you literally think that you’re about to die. After dealing with my mother’s cancer two years prior and losing her, I really thought I was about to die.”
Despite those fears, he is now disease-free and thriving after immunotherapy treatment at NewYork-Presbyterian and Columbia University Medical Center. He’s even participating in Caribbean carnivals again, one of his life’s greatest passions.
“The only way to describe how I feel today is blessed, fortunate,” Peterson tells SurvivorNet.
“You never anticipate being in a position to where you could possibly lose your life and then being afforded the opportunity to get it back… to do all the things that you wanted to do.”
Stage 4 Lung Cancer Diagnosis
It was New Year’s Day in 2017 when Oswald experienced severe pain and weakness. As the primary caregiver to his mother and partner, he was familiar with New York-Presbyterian/Columbia in Washington Heights and sought an evaluation there. Following tests, he got his diagnosis.
His oncologist, Dr. Cathrine Shu, a lung cancer specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian and Columbia University Medical Center, recommended immunotherapy, which around the same time had been FDA-approved for patients with non-small cell lung cancer. “Oswald was extremely sick when I first saw him,” recalls Dr. Shu. She tells SurvivorNet that he wasn’t a good candidate for chemotherapy because he was too sick from the cancer. “I did not think he could tolerate the fatigue, nausea, and count suppression (white blood cell count, hemoglobin, platelets) that often accompany chemotherapy.”
WATCH: Immunotherapy and Lung Cancer
Chemotherapy vs. Immunotherapy Treatment
Given his condition, immunotherapy was the key. Dr. Shu tells SurvivorNet that her patient received a treatment called pembrolizumab (brand name: Keytruda) intravenously every three weeks. “The treatment is a type of immunotherapy that harnesses the power of Oswald’s own immune system to fight the cancer,” she explains.
Peterson was relieved to find the treatments effective and relatively painless. “After dealing with my mother’s cancer, I saw the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy and the effects that it had on her body. I was scared that I would have to go through that,” he tells SurvivorNet. “The thing that was surprising to me was that when I had my first dose of the immunotherapy, I didn’t even know that I had received it.”
He tells SurvivorNet he experienced no side effects: no hair loss, no weight loss. “As a matter of fact, I gained weight as soon as I left the hospital, and it was the best thing for me.”
Each treatment made Peterson feel stronger. His breathing improved, and he even had the strength to perform at carnivals again. Earlier this year, before the pandemic, he danced in a costume that weighed 200 pounds during a visit to Trinidad.
“My family is from Trinidad, and each year when I am there for carnival, I always think back to, ‘Oh my God, in 2017 at this time, I was practically on my death bed,” he says. “Ever since carnival always feels like a celebration of the renewed opportunity of life that was given to me through immunotherapy and NewYork-Presbyterian.”
Disease Free After Immunotherapy
After treatment, he's disease free and living his life among close friends and a loving partner.
“There’s nothing else that describes that feeling except feeling extremely blessed; that’s the only way I could describe how I feel today,” he says.
“I’m healthy, I’m living a great and full life. I’m just truly in awe of what immunotherapy has done for me [and] truly blessed and grateful for everything done by Dr. Shu and the researchers who developed immunotherapy.”
He adds, “NewYork-Presbyterian has given me a second lease on life. It opened up a whole new world for me, and most importantly, I knew that this would be something that would help so many other people and that I had a part and bringing it forward.”
His is one man’s story of resilience and survival and a hopeful message for other patients.
Our research is bringing new treatment options to the table every day. If Oswald had this lung cancer even ten years ago, he would probably not be here today,” Dr. Shu tells SurvivorNet. Her advice to others in similar situations? Have hope, work closely with your oncologist, and participate in clinical trials if possible.”