Richard Tullier was driving on a road outside Da Nang, Vietnam when his jeep hit an explosive device that injured him badly.
Tullier was a US Marine serving in the Vietnam War at the time and that day he had been called to help some fellow Marines elsewhere. He spent 5 months in hospitals recovering after the accident and several years in therapy.
“We can patch you up,” his carers told him early on. “But the rest is up to you.”
“In the Marine Corps, you learn everything you accomplish is up to you,” said Richard, 75. “I have a positive attitude on life. I take one day at a time and don’t worry much. To me worry is useless – you don’t accomplish too much by worrying. There are hurdles in life that you’ve got to deal with.”
Richard considers kidney cancer one of those hurdles. After discovering a bump on the inside of his upper lip during a routine teeth cleaning in 2017, he was diagnosed with metastatic clear cell renal cell carcinoma.
“All I said was ‘wow,’” Richard said. “Next was, what do we do about it?”
Richard’s left kidney was full of cancer, according to his doctor at Tulane University Medical Center in New Orleans, Louisiana, plus he had a tumor in his right kidney, another in his chest between his lungs, and some small spots on his lungs and thyroid. A nephrectomy soon followed, and Richard began immunotherapy in early 2019. So far, scans have not shown further tumor spread and the spots on his lungs disappeared.
“Other than when they removed the kidney, I haven’t had any problems,” Richard said. “I’m an outdoor person so I have a yard with a vegetable garden and flower beds I take care of. I drive my tractor, I cut my own grass. I fish, I hunt. I do whatever I want.”
Both Richard’s father and father-in-law served in World War II.
“They’d joke all the time, have a few beers, and talk. Everybody is faced with obstacles and hurdles. It’s how you react to them,” he said.
Hearing from other people facing similar hurdles helped.
“I have a friend who is another Marine,” Richard said. “He just made 88 years and he lost his kidney 50 years ago. He said it never stopped him. My wife’s aunt was born without a lung or one kidney and lived into her 80s. Those kinds of things make you feel better.”
Richard, now retired from his career in construction and utilities, is himself part of a growing community in New Orleans helping to increase awareness about kidney cancer. In December 2019, he spoke on a panel alongside others impacted by kidney cancer during a dedicated Kidney Cancer Day spearheaded by his oncologist at Tulane, Dr. Pedro Barata.
Since the novel coronavirus emerged, Richard has continued his treatments but he and his wife of 51 years have mostly spent time at home. They video conference with their three sons and their families, who live nearby.
Richard said his diagnosis also increased his focus on spiritual reflection.
“I feel being told this woke me up a bit about my life and it’s given me a lot of time to study, read, and get back spiritually with my church. That has helped me a lot,” he said.
“I’ve faced death before. I spent 13 months in Vietnam. I’ve seen people die. After coming home, I worked in electricity and I’ve seen people die from that. You accept the fact that you’re not immortal. Your number will come up, it’s up to the good Lord. But I’m not going to volunteer for anything.”