No, My Mom Did Not Deserve Her Lung Cancer
Advocacy I will never forget the first time I looked up the survival statistics for stage 4 lung cancer and saw “4 percent” staring back at me on the screen.
In 2010, my mom, a life-long non-smoker, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. It was a disease I knew almost nothing about. My family was devastated, but determined to fight back.
The current outlook
In the six years since my mom's diagnosis, so much has changed in the field of lung cancer. Last year, six new lung cancer drugs were approved by the FDA and nearly half of all available lung cancer drugs have been approved in the last four years alone.
Yet, even as new, targeted drugs and immunotherapies are extending the lives of lung cancer patients with advanced disease, progress can't come fast enough. Lung cancer accounts for about 27 percent of all cancer deaths each year. The five-year survival rate has hovered around 17 percent for decades and alarmingly, research presented at last year’s World Conference on Lung Cancer indicates that lung cancer rates among non-smokers (particularly women) have doubled.
“How can it be that a disease that afflicts 1 in 14 Americans in their lifetime and accounts for nearly 160,000 deaths each year remains overlooked?”
Despite the urgent need to dedicate significant mindshare and dollars to this ravaging disease, lung cancer only receives $1,442 in federal research funds per death, compared with $26,398 for breast cancer and $13,419 for prostate cancer. Factor in private donations, and the funding gap becomes even more astounding.
Breaking down the barrier
How can it be that a disease that afflicts 1 in 14 Americans in their lifetime and accounts for nearly 160,000 deaths each year remains overlooked? One word: stigma. A pervasive underlying feeling that lung cancer patients should be blamed for their disease has held back both public and private research dollars and stalled major steps toward a cure.
While the developing landscape of lung cancer research offers some reason for hope, stigma still holds progress back at every turn. Progress didn't come fast enough for my mom, who after a courageous battle with this vicious disease, passed away in 2013 at the age of 59. And it isn't coming fast enough for the 220,000-plus Americans and their families who receive a lung cancer diagnosis each year.
Changing the conversation
It’s up to all of us to change the narrative around this disease. Let's pledge to treat lung cancer patients and their families with the same level of support, love and empathy that we do all cancer patients. Perhaps most importantly, let’s help combat the stigma by asking lung cancer survivors how they are doing, instead of whether they smoked.
Anyone who has watched a close family member or friend die of this disease knows that no one, whether they smoked or not, deserves lung cancer. So let's commit to fighting back harder against the stigma of lung cancer and, in turn, doing better by lung cancer patients and their families—because that’s what they deserve.