How My Passion for Lung Cancer Advocacy Paved the Road to Thoracic Oncology

Austin Peppers

On April 4, 2016, I received news that would change my life forever: my mom had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Before my mom was diagnosed, I knew nothing about lung cancer. I assumed that it was a smokers’ disease and that it was relatively easy to treat. I had no idea that lung cancer kills more people than breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers combined, and that people who never touched a cigarette could get lung cancer. After all the health classes and anti-tobacco programs I went through in school, I still felt unprepared for the road ahead.

Shortly after learning the devastating news that my mother’s lung cancer wasn’t localized as previously thought, we opted to get a second opinion. After days of research and trying to find an oncologist who specialized in thoracic oncology, we decided to go see Dr. David Carbone at The Ohio State University. At the end of my mom’s appointment, I asked Dr. Carbone how I could get involved with lung cancer research and advocacy, and he recommended LUNGevity Foundation.

After going to National Hope Summit in 2017, I had a clear vision of what LUNGevity was and realized that I was a perfect match. The informative and emotionally supportive events and, most importantly, the awesome people who are part of the lung cancer community and LUNGevity all made for a life-changing experience. I met hundreds of the individuals who, despite living with lung cancer, were so kind, caring, supportive, and full of life.  In fact, attending HOPE Summit further motivated and solidified my passion to make a difference in the field of lung cancer by becoming a thoracic oncologist.

Currently, I am participating in a summer undergraduate research program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where I am investigating the role of apoptosis-induced proliferation in cancer. I understand that cancer is an intelligent and complex disease, and that coming up with some magical pill that cures all cancer isn’t probable; however, someday I want to make the words “lung cancer” less scary. To achieve this goal, I plan to enroll in a dual MD/PhD program during the fall of 2020 in hopes of becoming a thoracic oncologist.

Austin PeppersIf I had to describe my mom with only one word, I would choose “passionate.” Whether she was making her famous chicken paprikash, planting her beloved flowers, or watching General Hospital, she always gave 110 percent. Her time with lung cancer was no exception, either. People may say that my mother “lost her battle” to lung cancer the second she took her last breath, but to me, it was lung cancer that was robbed of its glory. Lung cancer tried to steal my mom’s infectious smile, selfless personality, and passion for others, but the truth is, it failed miserably. Lung cancer made “Mama Kim’s” smile shine brighter than ever, strengthened family relationships, and pushed her to pursue faith. My mom found a way to make the best possible outcome given the grimmest circumstances, and for that, I am in awe of my mother’s courage and passion.

I hope my advocacy efforts can help avoid situations similar to what my family went through. I want to educate the world about lung cancer by sharing my story in any way that I can, in hopes that it eradicates the stigma one person at a time.

Blog category: 
Awareness & advocacy
Young adults


My Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer on New Years Eve 1997. On January 31st he was gone. Not even a month!!

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