In 2007, Jerrold Dash resolves to: Live to see 2008. Find a way for his family to be together. Promote organ donation and break the stereotypes associated with lung cancer.
By Mitch Mitchell
Source: Fort Worth Star-TelegramCredit: STAR-TELEGRAM STAFF
WRITERTuesday,January 9, 2007Edition: Tarrant, Section: News, Page A1
The Lockheed Martin Aeronautics systems engineer is 33 and approaching the first anniversary of his cancer being diagnosed. For the past six months he has lived in a Mountain View, Calif., apartment awaiting a double-lung transplant at Stanford University Medical Center. Dash’s wife of four years and his two young daughters live 1,600 miles away at the family’s south Fort Worth home.
"Cancer doctors are well-versed in what they do, but they don’t give you a lot of hope," Dash said in a telephone interview. "I’m not supposed to survive a year, and I’m definitely not going to be around after five, is what they told me."
Dash and his wife, Rhonda, were racing toward the good life when he began complaining of night sweats, sleepless nights, constant coughing and fatigue. Doctors suspected allergies, asthma, bronchitis, but none used advanced X-rays to screen for lung cancer, Dash said. He was working toward a third master’s degree when the cancer was diagnosed Feb. 1, four years after symptoms first appeared.
He is one of two patients in the United States with his diagnosis who have been approved by a transplant program, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing’s Web site.
Dash says the fact that he has never smoked and was athletic and health-conscious delayed his diagnosis.
He’ll never be able to pinpoint the cause, but he is convinced that secondhand smoke and pollution are two of the likely culprits. He pours out his anger at smokers on a blog that he began in September.
"I am not crazy, deranged, I am just mad as hell. I am mad when I fight for breath and I see smokers lighting up not caring where or in what direction their second-hand smoke goes. In California, there is no smoking in the restaurants, businesses, stores ... however, that does not stop smokers from lighting up right outside of the entrances to such establishments. It physically hurts me to have to walk through this stuff."
— Dash’s blog, Oct. 16
Baylor All Saints Medical Center in Fort Worth, Baylor Medical Center at Southwest Fort Worth and Lockheed all went smoke-free this month. Arlington banned smoking in restaurants, some bars and many other public places as of New Year’s Day. Fort Worth city leaders have scheduled public hearings this month and next on further tobacco restrictions.
Dash, who worked for tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds for two years after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, said even stronger measures are needed to protect nonsmokers from the byproducts of tobacco.
Against the odds
About 10 percent of people who have lung cancer have never smoked, according to David Weill, head of Stanford’s Lung Transplant Program. It is one of the few U.S. programs that transplants organs to cancer patients, Weill said.
"Usually, transplanting with cancer doesn’t work. The chance of getting cancer after the transplant is pretty high," Weill said.
And while the odds of Dash’s cancer returning after the transplant are about 50 percent, the chances are small that any recurrence would be fatal, Weill said.
"I think in life we have two great vices — fear and failure. ... I have over the last several months conquered my fear of death. No one lives forever. It is in knowing that I will one day die as an old man that I am able to live without fear and try to take advantage of every moment I have. Failure is not in my vocabulary. Athletes don’t fail." — Dash’s blog, Oct. 27
Tamara Crawford, a co-worker at Lockheed, said Dash informed her of his diagnosis about a year ago while he was being tested at a Fort Worth hospital.
"I said that doctors can get the diagnosis, but they don’t know the final outcome," said Crawford, an aeronautical engineer at Lockheed who had attended classes with Dash at Southern Methodist University. "Then I walked back to my car and cried."
A former fullback at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina, the 5-11, 235-pound Dash has struggled to maintain his weight. He lifts weights nearly every day and says chemotherapy — rat poison, he calls it — makes him hungry, weak, sleepy and angry.
"I had to call the cops today at the hospital to get three die-hard smokers out of the no-smoking area so that cancer patients didn’t have to go through a cloud of smoke while trying to get into the cancer center," Dash wrote in an e-mail Dec. 28.
Dash communicates with his family daily by phone, e-mail or webcam. His wife, Rhonda; their 3-year-old, Raegan; and 1-year-old Ravyn huddle around the computer to share news of holidays and routine events. The trio last visited Dash in California on Thanksgiving.
Raegan "cries for him. She misses him," said Rhonda Dash, an environmental investigator with the state. "She always asks when we can go back out there for a visit."
Ravyn was only a few weeks old when her father received his diagnosis. For her, Dash is a man inside the box.
"She calls the telephone Dada," Jerrold Dash said.
Timing is crucial
Jerrold Dash hasn’t been to Fort Worth since September, when he attended the funeral of his mother-in-law, who died of lung cancer. If he leaves the Palo Alto area, his name will be removed from the transplant list. That policy is driven by the short shelf life of lungs — a mere six hours after being removed from a donor. Transplant recipients must not venture more than four hours from the hospital because of the time needed for a pre-surgery work-up.
Dash completes his assignments related to the Lightning II project by telecommuting from one of Lockheed’s California offices.
He is working on a third master’s degree — this one in systems engineering, having earned graduate degrees in organizational management and computer information systems. He completes course work at Southern Methodist University by watching DVDs of his classes. His classmates graduated in December, but he is one class and one paper short of fulfilling his degree requirements.
Yet some things, he knows, are more important.
"From the time I graduated from college up to now, I did everything I could to benefit my career; a career I do not feel I will ever get back on track again. However, I am not sad to see my career take a backseat. You have to find a balance in life and prioritize the major things in your life. The things that are important to me are being able to wake-up and see another day, my GOD, and my friends and family."
— Dash’s blog, Jan. 2
Secondhand smoke causes 35,000 to 45,000 deaths from heart disease every year. An additional 3,000 otherwise healthy nonsmokers die of lung cancer each year because of their exposure to secondhand smoke, according to the American Cancer Society.
The Environmental Protection Agency has classified secondhand smoke as a Group A carcinogen, a substance that is known to cause human cancer.
Find information online about lung cancer and secondhand smoke at Medline Plus at medlineplus.gov or at the American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org/docroot/home/index.asp
As of Dec. 29, more than 94,600 people were on a transplant waiting list; more than 22,000 received transplants in 2006, and nearly 11,200 donated organs.
To ensure that your decision to become a donor is carried out, sign up at www.texasdear.org.
Indicate your wishes on your driver’s license or state ID when you apply for or renew it. Tell relatives that you have decided to become a donor.
Find information online at Donate Life America at www.donatelife.net, the United Network for Organ Sharing at www.unos.org or LifeGift at www.lifegift.org.
Contact Jerrold Dash through his blog at 2newlungs.blogspot.com.
SOURCES: American Cancer Society, Donate Life America, United Network for Organ Sharing
IF YOU GO
The public is invited to comment on recommended changes to Fort Worth’s smoking ordinance during 7 p.m. meetings hosted by the city:
Jan. 16: R.D. Evans Community Center, 3242 Lackland Road
Jan. 22: Handley Meadowbrook Community Center, 6201 Beaty St.
Feb. 1: Southwest Community Center, 6300 Welch Ave.
Feb. 12: North Fort Worth Baptist Church, 5801 N. Interstate 35W
Mitch Mitchell, 817-548-5411 firstname.lastname@example.org