John’s Story: A Positive Outlook After a Dire Cancer Prognosis

John Beeching has dedicated his life to missionary work as a Maryknoll Catholic brother. He has traveled across the world providing aid to refugees, caring for the sick, and helping feed and clothe the poor. His life’s work has been centered on service, helping people who need it the most. For the first time in a long time, John is now on the receiving end, getting help—and care—in his time of need.

John, who has been stationed in Bangkok, Thailand, for the past 30 years, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in August of 2017. The news of his diagnosis and prognosis hit hard.

John Beeching

John Beeching

“I was told I had inoperable lung cancer, malignancies in both lungs and the airways, and that I would have just six months to a year to live. The news was dire, to say the least,” says John. “My primary care doctor suggested I return to New York as quickly as possible, along with my test results. I packed up my things, gave a lot of my stuff away, and headed back to the States.”

When John returned to the U.S., he met with the Maryknoll Medical Services who urged him to seek another opinion and helped him arrange an appointment at Columbia University Irving Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian. That’s when he met Dr. Catherine Shu, who specializes in thoracic cancers. Up until this point, he felt he had no other options, but Dr. Shu thought otherwise.

Dr. Shu, who serves as clinical director of the Thoracic Medical Oncology Service at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC), thought that John might not have stage IV disease. She started him on a clinical trial combining an experimental immunotherapy treatment with chemotherapy. He underwent this treatment protocol for six weeks, experiencing very little side effects. John felt great during treatment, and he felt even better when he learned at the end of the trial that his cancer was eradicated.

John Beeching leads a course with Buddhist monks

John Beeching leads a course with Buddhist monks (Courtesy of John Beeching)

Soon after, John underwent an intense seven-hour operation led by Dr. Matthew Bacchetta to remove the tumor, which at that point had wrapped around a pulmonary artery. Following surgery and treatment in the spring of 2018, John was able to return to his home in Bangkok, a city he thought he had to bid a final farewell to just six months prior. He got his life back.

“Now with the pandemic, I can’t travel to the U.S. anymore to see Dr. Shu, but I’m still going for my scans here and sending them to Columbia,” says John. “At one of our visits, I remember telling Dr. Shu that getting cancer was, in fact, a blessing, which I know is an odd thing to say. But I learned an awful lot. I learned to depend upon people. Even faced with something so difficult as cancer, it is important to stay positive and to remain grateful to the people who care for you.”

Over the past 56 years John’s missionary work has taken him around the globe, to Chile, Lebanon, Egypt, Thailand, and Myanmar. He has taught English to Buddhist monks and refugees and provided care and awareness to HIV/AIDS patients in Southeast Asia in the height of the 1980s epidemic. As soon as he returned to Thailand following treatment with a more uplifting prognosis, John didn’t waste any time getting back on his feet and helping families in the Kachin IDP refugee camps in northern Myanmar.

“You can't imagine how grateful I am to Columbia/NewYork-Presbyterian, and most especially to Dr. Shu who felt I was worth a second chance,” says John. “I went from the direst prognosis a cancer patient can get to being back to serving overseas in six months, doing what I love to do best—helping others. And I was able to do so because Dr. Shu and the team at Columbia/NYP decided to help me.”

-Melanie A. Farmer