How many people are actually aware that November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month? It came and went with barely a discussion. How many people are aware that lung cancer is the number one cancer killer, yet it is the least funded of all cancers? How many people know someone who has died from lung cancer or blessedly made it through the fight?
There has always been a stigma attached to lung cancer and it is still pervasive today – that you did this to yourself. I hope that sounds unbelievable to you but it’s true. I was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2011. It was one of the most challenging, scary times of my life. What made it worse for me and for almost everyone else I know who goes through this type of cancer is that the first question I was asked then and am still asked to this day when I mention it is “How long did you smoke?” Not “How are you doing today” but “How long did you smoke?” I even recently had a doctor I needed to see for a bad cold who, upon reviewing my medical history, remark “I see you had lung cancer – how long did you smoke?” It’s almost accusatory and what’s worse when I told her that I was never a smoker she said “Well, you must have done something – people don’t just get lung cancer.” There is no other form of cancer where the person is asked to explain how they contributed to their diagnosis.
As my doctor at The Johns Hopkins Hospital told me at the time of my diagnosis “If you have lungs you can get lung cancer.” While smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, it can also be caused by genetics, environmental issues and secondhand smoke. All of these are things I was exposed to growing up. You can’t go back and change the things about your past that caused you pain or difficulty in your journey. You can learn from the experience and help others do the same. When someone I know has a serious illness, the first question I think of is their current state and how can I be supportive. Cancer is cancer regardless of the type and regardless of how you get there. Those who are fighting that battle need your support. So, as we approach the end of the year and look forward to the new year, make yourself a promise . The next time someone mentions that they have any type of cancer be very careful of the next words you choose to say to them – bring them down or you can lift them up.