It’s the million dollar question, in fact, it was often the very first question I got when I shared the news about my dads illness.
For all who may still be wondering, as if it really makes a difference at this point. Yes he smoked. Marlboro lights, pot too! he called those Holland cigarettes, and I promised to NEVER tell mom about those. But YES! My dad was a smoker, for about 30 years.
So now what? there’s this awkward pause before I begin to try to convince you that he didn’t smoke thaaaaat much, or that he quit at least 10 years ago, or that he was otherwise healthy. He wasn’t a big drinker, exercised regularly, ate healthy food. He was a personal trainer, an athlete. Then you will respond by trying to assure me that I shouldn’t feel guilty, “it happens to people who don’t ever smoke” “he is still so young”. All these things are true, but we could have skipped this silly little dance if you would have just avoided the question.
We all know smoking causes cancer. Let’s talk facts: smoking accounts for 30% of cancer deaths, and 87% of lung cancer specifically. Asking a lung cancer patient about their smoking habits suggests that, well, it was coming for them!
But I’d like to share some other statistics. Lung cancer is the leading cause of death in U.S. The majority of living lung cancer patients have been diagnosed within the last 5 years. That five-year survival rate is 17.8% and more than half of lung cancer patients die within the first year of their diagnosis.
So now here we are. I’ve spent countless, sleepless nights researching my fathers cancer. Stage 3 – non small cell, lung cancer. I’ve pretty much convinced myself that at best, I’ll have dad till I’m 30. Statistically speaking, there’s only a 17.8% chance of that, but… I’m still hopeful. And here you are reminding that me that maybe all this could have been avoided if he didn’t smoke. It’s like a slap in the face.
I read an article recently on lungcancerfoundation.org that discusses how the ‘majority of people’ believe that lung cancer is a self inflicted disease and how that influences ones compassion toward a person with lung cancer versus another type of cancer. This includes highly educated individuals and healthcare providers alike.
Of all my blog posts, I think this one is the most important for my readers to share. There is a great stigma related to lung cancer, similar to the stigma associated with AIDs in the 1980’s. It’s the ‘you did it to yourself attitude’. Patients with lung cancer feel a sense of shame and guilt. I’ve met with other caregivers of lung cancer patients that have admitted to not sharing the type of cancer their lovedone has, in efforts to avoid the stigma that comes with it. ultimately, this changes the kind of support that cancer patients and their caregivers recieve.
This post is important because it’s about more than hurting my feelings when you asked if my dad smoked. It’s about creating awareness around this issues. Lung cancer takes more lives than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined, and yet it has the lowest funding in cancer research.
How does this stigma impact funding toward lung cancer research, and what can we do to change that?
share to fight to end the stigma against lung cancer. #noonedeservesit