That’s right, even Ms. Never-Smoked-A-Day-In-Your-Life is eligible to receive this life sentence! Even if you exercise daily, eat all the right foods, and avoid other risk factors, you can still get lung cancer. If you have lungs, you can get lung cancer.
November is lung cancer awareness month, and as such, we need to help make people more aware of the fact that this cancer doesn’t just target smokers. It doesn’t just seek out people who “deserve it” because they brought it on themselves.
However, up until January 2, 2015, this is basically how I thought about lung cancer. You see, we had lost my grandfather to lung cancer in 1997. He had been a long-time smoker who had supposedly quit, but as it turns out, he had been sneaking smokes at work for years. He pretty much had it coming, right? Watching him die of this disease was awful.
Last fall, my 31-year old sister, Gwen, had a routine eye exam that indicated an abnormality in her left eye. After appointments with several doctors and subsequent scans later revealed that there was more than just something going on in her eye, we found ourselves in at the hospital in a small room for families listening to a surgeon telling us that the mass he removed from my sister’s lung seemed indicative of lung cancer. He began questioning us to see if there were any factors that may have caused a young, non-smoking, track coach to have lung cancer. There was nothing, and she had no symptoms of lung cancer, either!
After tests were run, we got the confirmation that she had stage 4 lung cancer. By the time she had her third round of chemo, she finally got a round of testing back that confirmed that she has a genetic mutation called ROS-1 that caused the lung cancer.
There are various types of mutations that can cause lung cancer – her’s happens to be pretty rare and she wasn’t tested for that particular one at first. Thankfully, science has progressed far enough that there is a medication that will treat her ROS-1 mutation and has cleared her lungs of cancer cells as much as the scans can detect! The medication worked much quicker than chemo, and doesn’t have nearly the side effects. This is a medication that she takes twice daily and will continue to do so until her body stops responding to it. (You can read more about Gwen’s story on my blog Gwen Fights Cancer)
Sadly though, there are oncologists out there that only know to test for the main mutations, so some patients do not get the opportunity to get the kind of treatment that my sister has gotten. We are so lucky to live here in the Triangle!
So why do some doctors not know about these things? Well, I can only speculate, because I am not an expert, but this science is so new! These drugs have only been recently approved by the FDA. Doctors would really need to be up on the very latest research, and I am sure that in more rural areas, this may not be as likely to happen. We are in a research mecca!
The 411 on Lung Cancer
Here’s the other issue: Like me, I think most of us consider this a smoker’s disease only, so the funding for the research is not there. Here are some facts that are really quite astounding:
- 1 in 14 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer.
- Lung cancer takes more lives than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined – it accounts for 27% of all cancer deaths.
- Lung cancer is the second leading cause of all deaths in the US.
- Lung cancer in never smokers is the 6th leading cause of US cancer deaths.
- Lung cancer kills almost two times as many women as breast cancer, and three times as many men as prostate cancer.
And this is the one that we have some control over:
And I think that previous statistic could have some control over this one:
So we are trying to spread the word to anyone who will listen (or read), and we hope you will do the same. The Lung Cancer Initiative of North Carolina held their LUNGeForward 5K fundraiser on November 7th. Some of you may remember that I posted about my training efforts (emphasis on effort, less on training). RMB had a contingent there supporting my sister’s team (Gwen Strong). Gwen is on the left:
In case you don’t remember, on November 7th it rained all morning. There was even some thunder and lightning prior to race time! It was terrible! What wasn’t terrible was seeing approximately 20 lung cancer survivors on stage prior to the race and hearing that a couple of them have been survivors for over 20 years. It was incredibly moving (and also damp).
My sister had trained to compete as well. She ran the whole way! She was the first female survivor to cross the finish line. She finished before I did…but we all finished!
And we can pretend in our “after picture,” we are all so sweaty from how fast we were running, or we can pretend that we were having a wet t-shirt contest for lung cancer (still trying to brainstorm some other fundraising ideas that don’t involve me having to run…).
Team Gwen Strong raised over $6000 for the Lung Cancer Initiative and the LUNGeForward 5K raised over $150,000. Helping to increase the funding for research for this cancer fight is so important! Without advancements in science, who knows how my sister (and others like her) would be doing today? So while we await the next great fundraising idea, go ahead and wear a white ribbon. Please help us spread the word about this (thus far) incurable disease.
This post is not intended to suggest we defund or do not support other cancer awareness programs. It only intends to bring more awareness to the need of more Lung Cancer research and also help break the stigma attached to it that this is a “smoker’s disease”.
American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts and Figures 2013. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2013.