CHICO, Calif. -- "You have 6 months to live."
That's what doctors told James Hickman at the Oncology ward at Enloe Medical Center.
"It wasn't the cancer or dying. The only thing that frightened me about the cancer was the ending part.. it seemed like a horrible way to leave your life here," Hickman said.
Fighting stage 4 lung cancer isn't cheap.
But after radiation, he was offered new hope.
"I wouldn't approach it as a 100% death sentence. There are always options," said Dr. Randolph.
Dr. Robert Randolph, Hickman's oncologist at Enloe Medical Center, got his patient into a no-cost trial at U.C. Davis.
"When I found out what this stuff can cost, it was amazing! That felt pretty good!" Hickman said.
He's talking about Immunotherapy treatment.
"Cancer cells express a protein called PL-1 that tell the immune system to 'go away' and not recognize the cancer as something foreign. These antibodies let down that shield the tumor has and allow the immune system to better attack the cancer," said Dr. Jonathan Wesley Riess, Hickman's doctor at U.C. Davis.
It's been more than 5 years since doctors gave Hickman that prognosis.
The treatment shrank tumors in his lungs, brain, and pelvis.
His doctors weren't surprised at the outcome.
"We have patients who now are doing well years after starting immunotherapies.. some no longer on immunotherapies at all. That's probably one of the most gratifying things," Dr. Reiss said.
Then, a new battle: Hickman had to switch gears and keep on living.
He took back his job at the Torres Shelter, helping Butte County's homeless.
"It just seemed to be more fulfilling, I can't explain it. I definitely wasn't the money... I just noticed that I felt better as a person every time I came here... If it wasn't for this place and my friends outside of this place, I don't know how far I would have gotten with this disease," Hickman said.
The battle didn't stop each time Hickman got home from treatment.
But his part was pretty simple.
"Now I understand how important a lot of water is, as simple as that may seem," Hickman said.
Plus, he's added more greens, protein, and fruit, and cut back on sugar.
"It sounds easy in principle but it can be hard in the practicality of it: get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, and exercise," said Dr. Randolph.
"The diet change was a slow shift, not that I had to. I wanted to. There were so many people involved in my recovery, how could I not?" Hickman said.
Immunotherapy has been in use for about 6 years and is an approved treatment in some forms.
It's still in trials for use in conjunction with other cancer treatments like radiation.