‘You Never Forget That Day’

One man’s courageous story of living with advanced lung cancer

Meet Steve Behan. He and his wife Ziba have been married for 18 years. He says she’s a hero, the rock of their family of six. She says he’s always been her pillar of strength. Ziba and Steve love spending time together, taking on new projects like gardening. He is known as ‘Farmer Steve’ to the entire family.

As a young dad, Steve loved kicking the soccer ball around with his children and coaching their soccer teams. He and his family also share a love of being near the ocean – fishing, playing in the waves and enjoying the salt and sand.

A busy family man, Steve approaches everything optimistically. His positive spirit, coupled with his energetic nature, has always made him feel like he could tackle anything life threw his way. That all changed when he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. He was told he only had six months to live.

Steve decided to do everything he could to change that prognosis.

He wasn’t ready to stop kicking soccer balls, holding his wife’s hand and hugging his grandchildren. So he and his family focused all their energy on fighting his cancer. They worked with his doctors to explore options that would hopefully allow him to live his life and continue doing the things he loved most.

Today, Steve helps coach others through their cancer diagnosis – it’s a natural fit for him since he’s been called ‘Coach’ all his life. He’s found that supporting other people with cancer helps him manage his own diagnosis and fight against lung cancer.

Here’s his story.

In your own words, tell us a bit about yourself.

I’ve lived in California all my life. I have four kids and four grandchildren, all under the age of six, who keep me going each day. When I’m with them, I feel like a five-year-old myself, getting down and dirty with trucks, rocks, dinosaurs, building blocks – whatever the boys want to do.

We've always been energetic and active, and I'm very optimistic – that's my nature… but when I was diagnosed, it changed me. You never forget the day you were hit with that news.

Can you describe your experience with cancer?

It started with a small pain in my hip. I went to the doctor and sat through all the scans, X-rays, and finally, a biopsy. I remember being in the doctor’s office and hearing that I had stage 4 lung cancer. I was just floored. I was told I probably had about six months to live.

My wife was with me. She’s a strong woman, and the best partner I could ever wish for. I recall walking out of the doctor’s office and trying to process everything…and then going right back in, saying,

“I’m not going to settle for that. Whatever edgy thing you’re involved in, I want it. I know this hospital is on the cutting edge. There’s got to be something we can do.”

That’s when the discussion of clinical trials came up. I enrolled in a clinical trial and started the process, which was pretty intense at times. But I got through it with the help of my family, my medical team, my friends – I really surrounded myself with that support. Once they got over the initial shock that I had stage 4 lung cancer, they’ve just been great.

I can't tell you every day I wake up positive, but I really feel blessed that I can see my grandchildren and my family. That's what motivates me.

“Before retiring a few years ago, I had a high-pressure job helping companies manage their employee benefits, which included helping people with serious illnesses… I never imagined I would be one of those people.”

There are a lot of misconceptions about lung cancer. What surprised you most about your diagnosis?

That it wasn’t caught earlier. That there weren’t some signs that it had evolved to this stage. I had no idea I had cancer. It was a huge surprise to me.

I had smoked and quit, but that was 15 years ago. I still sometimes scratch my head – why didn’t I know?

Advances in cancer research depend on the courageous participation of patients in clinical trials. Why did you decide to participate in a clinical trial, and what advice do you have for others who are considering one?

I saw that clinical trial as an opportunity to maybe change that six months I was given [to live] to something else. When my doctor walked us through the information about the trial, it gave me a little bit of hope.

I encourage other patients to learn all they can, get themselves in the right physical condition, set goals and try to be positive – that kind of energy has been key for me.

“At some point there’s going to be an answer for what I have…That’s what really drives me – the hope that that’s going to happen.”

What are your hopes for the future?

My greatest hope is to be around as long as I can, so I can see my grandchildren more and watch them grow. And time with my wife is extremely important. I also have some new hobbies that I really enjoy – I invested in a nice electric guitar a couple of years ago and am re-teaching myself how to play.

Medically, there are so many ‘steps forward’ being made. I want to hang around to see what other advancements will come along. That’s what really drives me – the hope that these advances will help me.