I’ve considered blogging for several years. I enjoy writing when I have the time and something to say, but the commitment of a blog always deterred me. I dabbled in blogging, guest posting occasionally (see vegetarian cookbook recommendations, Cuba experiences, Cuba vegetarian assessment, spinning class profile one, two, three, and four), but relied on Facebook as a low-commitment writing outlet. Now I’m ready to take the plunge.
When I got my lung cancer diagnosis, I was shocked. Last year I’d heard about another local woman, a 34 year old non-smoker named Jen Bulik-Lang, who had lung cancer and passed away less than a year after her diagnosis. I’d never met Jen, but she was the girlfriend and then wife (you may have seen press coverage of their wedding) of one of my favorite yoga teachers, Jeff Lang. I was affected by their story, and dropped off a meal in an effort to help in some small way. Yet, somehow, the message that lung cancer could strike anyone – even me – did not sink in. I thought it was some horrible, but exceptional, fluke.
You know that saying? “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” I have now gone through a very similar process as Jen: two months of misdiagnosed mystery cough, followed by a devastating diagnosis. Pretty stiff penalty for being dense. Damn, I hate it when I’m wrong.
It turns out lung cancer is the second leading cause of all deaths in the US, and it kills more women than any other kind of cancer. In fact, lung cancer kills more women each year than breast, ovarian and cervical cancers combined. Even more surprising, almost 20% of new lung cancer cases are never-smokers (an additional 60% are non-smokers). One would think, with numbers like these, the public would be more aware of the threat of lung cancer. But, the myth, and the stigma, of the weathered Marlboro Man suffering after a lifetime of smoking seems to overwhelm the facts.
The inaccurate perceptions of lung cancer impact everything, from public understanding of their own symptoms, to doctors’ recognition and diagnosis, to research funding. Lung cancer is the least funded cancer in terms of research dollars per death of all the major cancers. In 2011, the government funded $1.1 Billion to breast cancer research, $334 Million to colon cancer, $321 Million to prostate, and $224 Million to lung cancer. In the private sector for 2011, the Susan G. Komen foundation alone raised $200 Million for breast cancer, while all the various lung cancer foundations together raised maybe $20 Million. And guess what? There’s a direct correlation between funding and survival rates.*
This has to change. Awareness is the first step. When we know better, we can do better. My hope and prayer is that my blog can help raise awareness that lung cancer can strike anyone with lungs; that someone, somewhere will have come across my blog and recognize their (or their patients’) symptoms a little earlier; and that research funding will eventually increase. So, thanks for reading, and spread the word.
*I got these figures from the panel at the Bonnie Addario Lung Cancer Foundation Living Room meeting held on 2/18/14, which is available to watch online). Panelists included representatives from Lungevity, Lung Cancer Foundation of America, American Lung Association, Dusty Joy Foundation, and Bonnie Addario herself. Apologies that I have not done my own primary research to verify these figures.