All It Takes is Lungs

It’s October. Is there anyone who does not know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month? I know that if I watched more television or kept up better with the news, this month especially I would be inundated with stories about women who are surviving and thriving after a breast cancer diagnosis.

Keeping my breast cancer friends in mind

I have too many wonderful friends who have bravely faced breast cancer ... and who are beautiful survivors. They’ve gone through horrible treatments that nearly guarantee the loss of hair and many of them face continuous treatments for many years after the cancer is removed to, hopefully, prevent it from recurring. Not only that, many of them must or opt to have their breasts removed -- this cannot be an easy decision. As women, we are taught that much of our identity is in our breasts.

So, it is with those facts in mind that I approach the fact that November marks Lung Cancer Awareness Month ... and I have a sneaking suspicion that just about the only people who know it are those intimately affected by the disease, either personally or because a loved one has battled or is battling it.

Advocate fatigue

Generally, I am quite vocal about lung cancer awareness, though this year I have not been quite so loud. I think maybe I am a victim of “Advocate Fatigue” ... it just seems sometimes like no matter how much we say or how loudly we proclaim it, the message is simply not getting out.

Anyone can get lung cancer

What is the message? If you have lungs, you can get lung cancer. It is just that simple. And just that frightening.

Despite the stigma and the widely held belief that only smokers ... and maybe a few unlucky people who were exposed to asbestos or second-hand smoke ... get lung cancer, the facts are that everyone is susceptible. You can never have been around a cigarette -- or asbestos -- or radon -- in your entire life and still be diagnosed with this dreaded disease.

Sadly, lung cancer is a disease that sneaks up on us. There are rarely any symptoms until the cancer has advanced to a later stage. Most people, even smokers, don’t even begin to monitor for lung cancer until they develop a cough that simply won’t go away (and even then, asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, etc. are blamed) or they start coughing blood or their energy levels have just completely tanked. By then, treating the disease is usually difficult because it has frequently metastasized, taking a firm hold in the body.

Why is lung cancer missed?

I think some of the reasons why lung cancer is so frequently misdiagnosed or not diagnosed until late in the game are these:

  1. Even doctors have bought into the stigma that only smokers get lung cancer. Far too many of them don’t even consider checking for tumors when a patient, especially a young patient with no history of smoking, presents himself or herself. They will treat for anything and everything before finally, as a last resort, prescribing an x-ray, or preferably, a CT scan.
  2. The lungs have no feelings so there is no pain associated with tumors in the lungs.
  3. Since the lungs are internal, we can’t feel lumps or bumps that cause us to investigate further.
  4. Unlike colon cancer, which often results in bad stomach aches or other signals, we generally keep on breathing moderately well until the tumors have taken a firm hold in our lungs (and often, by then, outside of them as well).

Screening saves lives

If you’re a smoker or former smoker, check with your doctor about having a low-dose CT scan. Lung cancer is not nearly so deadly if it is caught in the early stages.

If you are not a smoker, but you have a cough or blood in your sputum or are having trouble breathing, please do yourself a favor. Insist upon getting a low-dose CT scan. Honestly, even if you must pay for it yourself (because even insurance companies buy into the stigma), it is worth the cost for either the peace of mind that all is well or catching the disease at an early stage when it is treatable.

A message throughout the year

In November (and throughout the year), please keep on telling everyone who will listen: All it takes to get lung cancer is a set of lungs. It doesn’t matter what your gender is, how old you are, how healthy you are, how active you are, or whether you smoke or have ever smoked or been around smoke.

I can’t say it enough (and neither can you) -- ALL IT TAKES IS LUNGS TO GET LUNG CANCER! Beware!!! And Be Aware!!!

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