For starters, my very dearest friend in the whole wide world has a very, very rare form of thyroid cancer. I wrote about her and her medullary thyroid cancer when this blog was just weeks old. When she was diagnosed, just two months before something was going wrong in my left breast, I remember springing into action to figure out where in the world they were doing research on medullary thyroid cancer. There's no glory in finding a breakthrough for a cancer that is diagnosed in about 450 people per year. Pisses me off because it just does, but there is an element of understanding.
On the other end of the spectrum, lung cancer. Nearly a quarter of a million Americans are diagnosed with lung cancer each year. There's no glory in finding a breakthrough for a cancer that is so stigmatized, THE cancer which is the poster child of "blame the patient" for their diagnosis. Pisses Me OFF.
My grandfather died of lung cancer in 1966. He was 55 years old. My dad was diagnosed with an early stage lung cancer in November of 2006 right after I began chemotherapy for my breast cancer. He died in July of 2007, days after his 71st birthday. It was not from the lung cancer but it was the lung cancer that began to topple a series of dominoes leading up to his untimely and unexpected death. Don't even bother asking me if either of them smoked. It's not the point.
What IS the point? Lung cancer will kill more about 160,000 people this year. That is more than colon, breast and pancreatic cancer COMBINED. Lung cancer kills more women each year than breast cancer. (Heart disease is the number one killer of women.) Where is the awareness? Where is the ribbon? Where is the compassion? Where is the empathy? Where is the research?
We do not like be "blamed" for our breast cancer diagnoses. Why is it okay to lay blame at the feet of those diagnosed with lung cancer? Why is the very first question asked, "Do you smoke?" and if that answer is no, the very next question is, "Did you smoke?" WHAT difference does that make?? If you must know, about 40,000 of those diagnosed with lung cancer each year are "never-smokers." All are stigmatized, treated with that haughty, self- righteous, "you brought this on yourself" attitude by many of us.
I implore all to find their compassion and lose the judgement. The statistics are startling. There are no effective screening tools to detect lung cancer at its earliest stage. Five year survival rate? 16% ..... While breast cancer is funded by the government at over $21,000 per death, lung cancer? Less than $1,500.00 per death.
I'm playing the numbers NOT the underlying reasons. These are lives and every life matters. What brings this on? For starters, I was having a twitversation with a couple of young women who are not only upset over the disease, but equally upset over the stigma. In the midst of the conversation, this appeared on my screen:
@chemobrainfog @lungcancerfaces If we can remove the stigma from lung cancer we can make a big step toward helping everyone w/ this disease
— Otis Brawley (@OtisBrawley) January 15, 2013
@lungcancerfaces Lets stop stigmatizing all w/ lung cancer.I really dont care how a person got it once diagnosed.I want to support themThat was a pretty big deal. Dr. Otis Brawley is the Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society. He's also very big on evidence based medicine and "show me the data." I'm all about medical decisions based upon science, proven science. And I'm all about saving lives. All lives, as many lives as possible.
— Otis Brawley (@OtisBrawley) January 15, 2013
So friends, I ask you to think before going down the blame path. Take a look at what they are doing at Uniting Against Lung Cancer. In May of 2007, we sponsored a kite in honor of my dad at their inaugural, signature event: Kites For A Cure. If that sounds remotely familiar, it's the "for a cure" part that caused a dust-up but in the spirit of not going "there" I'm not going there.
Let's just stick to good will. No stigma, no blame. Do you know the color of the lung cancer ribbon? I'll bet more don't than do. It's clear. It's powerfully significant. Invisible. We are at the top of the visibility chain. Let's share it with others. They need our help.
I told Dr. Brawley I'd jump in to try to see what might be done to remove the stigma and I told him I'd get some of you to join me. No action is necessary, just a change in mindset. And a couple of retweets if you are on twitter. I just registered a new hashtag: #NoStigma. It's a start......
@otisbrawley Thank you. Will see how we can/shd broaden advocacy beyond breast cancer & remove stigma on lung cancer. #bcsm Our help needed
— AnneMarie Ciccarella (@chemobrainfog) January 15, 2013