Did you know that statistics show that if lung cancer in non-smokers were in its own category, it would rank in the top 10 FATAL cancers in the United States? According to Cancer.org, 20% of patients diagnosed with lung cancer never smoked.1
So, why is the first question everyone asks is, do you smoke? Or, did you smoke? Even your physician will ask if you smoke. If you tell your physician you never smoked, it seems many patients number 1 complaint is, “because I never smoked it took longer to get my diagnosis.”
We, as a community of lung cancer patients, need to come together and eliminate this stigma. Yes, smoking increases your chances of getting a multitude of diseases but that doesn’t mean you deserve to get these diagnoses.
LUNGevity and Genetech along with other organizations created a 10 minute online survey. According to the Lung Cancer Foundation, the results showed that, “three fourths of those who participated had a negative bias towards people with lung cancer. When those feelings were broken down, the percentage of people who associated negative thoughts with lung cancer included:
- Shame – 67%
- Stigma – 74%
- Hopelessness – 75%”2
When this is combined with other studies that suggest a subconscious bias leads to poorer medical care, that’s a big problem
Do you see those numbers? In 2017, it is unbelievable that survivors still feel that way, but they do. This is absolutely deplorable given the advances in lung cancer research and new medications being discovered every day. You also have to factor in with the results, 20% of lung cancer survivors never smoked. These are the facts.
Yes, I smoked my entire life. Yes, I still have cigarettes now and then. Does that mean that I should be the one to get lung cancer and not you? This is a very controversial statement. Mainly because how do you explain to a never-smoker that they now have this disease. As more non-smokers get a lung cancer diagnosis, they are more vocal in stating they never smoked. To someone who has lung cancer who smoked, how do you think this makes us feel? Are we glad you got lung cancer? ABSOLUTELY NOT.
But we know that all you need to get lung cancer is lungs. PERIOD. You could have been the picture of health, eating well, working out every day and BAM – your doctor tells you at your yearly physical you have Stage IV lung cancer. Imagine being in your 20’s or 30’s and being told this.
Finding Our Voice
We need to come together and be one voice. Lung cancer is the #1 killer – not breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, more people die of lung cancer each year than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.2 Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women; about 1 out of 4 cancer deaths are from lung cancer. NOW THAT IS THE FACT WE NEED TO MAKE PEOPLE MORE AWARE OF.
I have survived 3 years and 9 months so far. I am so tired of being asked, “do/did you smoke.” Is the first question a heart patient is asked, “did you eat a lot of fried food?” Of course not. Is a patient diagnosed with diabetes asked, “did you eat a dozen donuts a day.” Of course not.
So let’s join together and make our voices heard. Not only to other people but to the medical profession as well. How many of you were non-smokers whose diagnosis was delayed because your doctor never thought about lung cancer because you didn’t smoke? That is how it ends up Stage IV before you find out!
Again, we know our risk of getting lung cancer was higher due to smoking but don’t be the one to ask, “did you smoke” or be the patient who says, “I never smoked but I got lung cancer.” It happens to everyone! It does not discriminate.