My mom, like many women, battled breast cancer. And, like many women, won that battle. Several years after her victory, though, a malignant lesion was discovered on her lung. Our first thought was that the breast cancer had reared its ugly head for a rematch. When a biopsy determined that the cancerous cells actually originated in the lungs, the diagnosis was one that shocked the entire family: lung cancer. Stage IV lung cancer. My mom had never smoked a cigarette in her life. She had never been exposed to second-hand smoke, as neither her parents nor my father ever smoked. In fact, she detested being around smoke. She was one of the statistics you hear about.
I quickly learned that lung cancer is often not diagnosed until it is in the very late stages. There is no screening for lung cancer as there is for breast, colon, prostate, or a myriad of other cancers. While lesions can be detected from chest x-rays, a simple chest x-ray is not part of a routine physical. I searched for some other way to be vigilant. Are there signs to look for? Yes. Clearing one’s throat. Seriously? Yes. I clear my throat all the time. Should I rush to the doctor demanding a chest x-ray, just in case I have lung cancer? Every time I clear my throat? Maybe… A cough is another sign. Who doesn’t cough and clear their throats? If you have a cough, your first thought is that you probably have a cold, especially if you don’t smoke. Lung cancer is not even on the radar.
The fact is that lung cancer takes more lives than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined. And yet, there is no screening for it. I wonder if that might be because people automatically assume that if you have lung cancer, you must be a smoker and, hey, everyone knows the risks associated with smoking. Number one on that list is, of course: lung cancer. So, you didn’t have to smoke, ya’ know. When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, her reaction was, “At least I have a popular disease.” This was in keeping with her sense of humor, but also the fact that there is an enormous amount of research being done for the early detection and treatment of breast cancer, as well as many other cancers. But, lung cancer? You’re kind of on your own… And that makes me angry. Angry at the lack of awareness on the part of both the general public and the medical field. Maybe when people realize that we are all vulnerable, we’ll start to see more funds directed toward the early detection of lung cancer. It doesn’t just happen to people who “asked for it.” One thing I did come away with from my mother’s experience: if you gotta’ have a disease, it’s good to be with the “in” crowd.