Advocacy, Faith and a Guardian Angel
By Tom Marsilje
Josh Lambeth’s gastrointestinal symptoms started to become more noticeable a few months before his wedding day. He’d met his wife, Megan, in 2012. It was love at first sight; they were engaged only five months later and married in May 2013. Today, he calls it a fateful decision.
Josh saw his family physician multiple times over the course of two to three years and was told he was completely healthy — it was just a hemorrhoid and he was much too young for it to be anything serious. Within days of returning from their honeymoon Josh met with his first Gastrointestinal specialist, Dr. Spencer Carney of Wilmington GI Associates, who immediately offered a colonoscopy. As both a wife and a medical doctor, Megan knew his symptoms were cause for concern. Dr. Carney thought maybe irritable bowel, Ulcerative Colitis or Crohns at worst, but assured Josh that he would be OK. When Josh woke up from anesthesia, Dr. Carney had tears coming down and informed him that he had cancer. Thirty-nine days into their marriage, Josh was diagnosed with Stage 2B colorectal cancer (CRC).
The first two days after receiving the news felt like a bad dream. On the third morning, Josh got down on his hands and knees in the shower and just prayed, asking God to “take the fear away.”
With that, his fear melted away and he refocused on his passions: Megan, doing what it takes to beat cancer, and his advocacy. Josh thought to himself: “How can I make this experience as positive as possible? How can I help as many people as possible along the way?” These were not just idle thoughts. That very same day Josh started reaching out to contacts to put on a fundraiser to raise financial support and awareness. “I wasn’t even thinking about what we were getting ready to face,” he recalls.
Where did this reaction come from? His faith. “Looking back I had always prayed that God would use me to help other people. I never in a million years thought that his plan for me would be a cancer diagnosis. More good has come out of my fight with cancer than I ever would have imagined. I love helping other people and my diagnosis has given me a direction and a focus,” Josh says. “My goal is to help as many people as I can, while I can. And that makes me happy.”
He decided to work with the NHRMC Foundation connected to his local hospital, the New Hanover Regional Medical Center. The day he was diagnosed, he immediately began to followed up his plans with action. Since then, he has helped the Foundation raise over $70,000.
During his advocacy work, Josh’s cancer went through cycles of positive and negative news. After he finished standard chemotherapy and radiation with hopes of a Stage 2 cure, Josh and Megan celebrated their one-year anniversary with a drive down California’s Pacific Coast Highway. Each time they saw good waves, Josh would go surfing, a lifelong passion which he has continued to enjoy as a cancer survivor as a piece of pre- cancer normalcy in his life.
Three months after this celebratory drive, Josh’s cancer returned in his liver.
Josh was devastated, this news hitting harder than the original diagnosis. During the Pink Ribbon video shoot he told Martha Harlan of NHRMC that his biggest fear was his cancer coming back. Minutes later, he got the call from Megan with the news.
With guidance from his physician wife, Josh’s care was transferred to the world-renowned CRC-liver metastasis expert Dr. Nancy Kemeny at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. In New York, she and Dr. Ronald DeMatteo treated his recurrence through surgery and a procedure Dr. Kemeny is a leading expert on: the HAI-chemotherapy pump. The treatment gave Josh no evidence of disease for 15 months. A second recurrence led to additional liver surgery and similar therapy.
Today, Josh shows no signs of disease in his CT scans. Even after multiple surgeries, his liver has regrown back to its original size.
The pillars of Josh’s life continue to this day: Megan, faith, and his desire to be the strongest patient advocate possible. And he knows these pillars are interconnected. “If it weren’t for Megan I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have gone to a GI specialist until it was too late. I wouldn’t have had insurance. I wouldn’t have been treated by Dr. Kemeny,” he says. Without his wife, Josh wouldn’t have tried to start a family through the adoption process. Without her, Josh would not be continuing his advocacy mission, excited to work with the Colon Club. Already he is planning: more fundraising concerts, a gala event for CRC Awareness month in March, and setting up a system of “chemo buddies” at his local hospital.
“I know that God sent Megan into my life, and she has been my living guardian angel,” Josh says. Through his advocacy as a recurrent CRC survivor, this guardian angel’s influence is reaching many more than just one survivor.
Josh and Megan recently adopted a baby girl, Kinsley Grace Ellen Lambeth born September 12, 2016 at 5:50am, 6lbs., 12 oz. and would like especially thank Dr. Andrew Schreiber, Dr. Cyrus Kotwall, Dr. Spencer Carney, Dr. Nancy Kemeny, Dr. Ronald DeMatteo, Leann Long, Shauna Ruoff, Martha Harlan, Renee Mangum, and all of Josh’s friends and family that have supported him through this fight.
Cool fact — they gave Kinsley the middle name Ellen after Dr. Kemeny’s middle name, since Dr. K is a driving force of how and why Josh is still alive.