The Lung Cancer Stigma

by Katie Brown

There's one thing (aside from the lack of treatment options, horrific survival rates and funding) that a lung cancer patient, caregiver, advocate HATES and that's the stigma attached to this disease.

I can sum it up in one word, cigarettes.

One of the first things people ask when I mention I lost my dad to lung cancer is whether or not he smoked. As if an answer to that question would make it o-k somehow that he died from it. Lung cancer shouldn't be a death sentence for those who smoked. People diagnosed with lung cancer deserve treatment options like anyone else with any other type of cancer....

The most heartbreaking part about the stigma is the way it can make a lung cancer patient feel...guilty. Maybe they had smoked at sometime in their lives, maybe they worked around cigarette smoke or carcinogens, maybe they did none of these things and getting lung cancer was their worst case of bad luck. It's such a shame.

One of my support group members wrote:

Society thinks it's okay to label lung cancer patients that smoked as people who deserve it,

and always point out when someone has been diagnosed that never smoked, and how awful it is. What a terrible sentence that has been imposed.

Lung cancer - if you breathe, you are at risk. I think that sums it up?
Because statistics show that ANYONE can get lung cancer- whether they smoked or not.

I've been an advocate for almost 8 years and I've seen just about every side to the smoking "issue" and stigma attached to this disease.

Smoking v Never-smokers, women v men, etc.... The major fundamental result of the stigma in every instance is the lack of funding for research, lack of treatment options, lack of compassion and low survival rates.

When someone asks whether or not my father smoked- I could say yes he did, or why do you ask, or yes but way back when..or say his cancer was asbestos related... I've said one or more of these answers in the early years because all of it is true.....
but I don't answer in this way anymore.

At LUNGevity, we are cause agnostic. We don't care WHY you got lung cancer, as if the majority of the cases could even be attributed to one specific thing to a certainty! WE don't CARE why. We don't care if you smoked or didn't smoke.
We care about CURING the disease...

When speaking to people who are uneducated about lung cancer- I feel like it's a privilege to educate them. And believe me I do. I love the reactions I get and 99.9% of the time I've recruited new advocates to my cause or at the very least opened someones eyes up about this disease...because everyone knows someone whose been affected by lung cancer.

Did he smoke?

My answer:

Did you know that 60% of people who are dx. with LC are long-term ex-smokers and NEVER smokers? You know what that means? We are ALL at risk. Every one of us. If we breathe, we can get lung cancer!

Did you also know that lung cancer is the deadliest cancer killer with the LEAST funding? Do you know why? Because people ask "did he smoke?" People think that if they don't smoke, or quit smoking, they won't ever get it- that they are "safe". And that question implies that if a patient did smoke, that they somehow deserved their cancer. No one deserves cancer.

LC kills more than breast, colon, pancreatic and prostate cancers combined. The statistics are devestating...and never smoking women under 40 are being diagnosed at an alarming rate. That's really scary. It means we are ALL at risk.

Let's go back to smokers who get lung cancer...In America, smoking is LEGAL so I say SHAME on our government for using tobacco money for road repairs and to balance their budgets,instead of treating the diseases and health issues this "legal" product causes. Smokers don't deserve to die of cancer.

So when you hear about someone who's been diagnosed with lung cancer, don't ask if they smoked. Ask them how you can help.

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