Stigma and Lung Cancer

I understand why so many people that are diagnosed with lung cancer don’t want to tell people. The stigma of lung cancer is so deep, and many are shamed by it.

It’s so sad because it doesn’t seem that other cancers and illnesses are shamed like lung cancer is. But as survivors we must advocate, educate and bring awareness to others. This can be a cruel world, but to shame someone for having lung cancer is ridiculous and that we must change.

Challenging the smoking stigma

I remembered when I was diagnosed with lung cancer almost 10 years ago, I said to my doctor, “But I don’t smoke.” He told me “You don't have to smoke to have lung cancer.”

I looked at him with a puzzled look because it was always drilled in our heads that smoking causes lung cancer. It was never mentioned that there are other factors that can cause lung cancer, such as radon gas or certain carcinogens.  

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I remembered in the 90s every TV station had commercials about how smoking causes lung cancer. Those commercials ran 24/7, and so of course the stigma began. Now here I am questioning how I got lung cancer.

All I knew I was just diagnosed with lung cancer and now what? I knew I had to do my homework and learn as much as I could about lung cancer, treatments options and the next new research and so I did.

Dispelling misconceptions

When it came time to share this awful news to my family and friends, the news spread like wildfire. Many couldn’t believe it because they too would say, “How? She didn’t smoke.” I then began learning and sharing posts about lung cancer on Facebook and my advocacy and bringing awareness began.

I remember friends would comment “I didn’t know that.” I took that as a sign to continue to post because many needed to know the truth that anyone can get lung cancer.

Was I judged by others, especially those that didn’t know me? Of course I was!

After chemo there were a few times, I went out and people knew I was going through chemo and would ask me. I would tell them I’m battling lung cancer. The look on their faces was priceless. It went from feeling sorry for me, to you deserved it.

I would get so sad because it hurt, but I would get angry too. I had people ask me if I smoked and I would answer them no and almost all had a what the heck face. Those were the best ones!

I even had people tell me, “Oh honey well that’s self-inflicted” or “Well it’s your fault for smoking.” In the beginning I would literally curse at them, but I learned that didn’t do me good. It only upset me, and it wasn’t worth it.

Changing perspectives on lung cancer

So, I decided to change it. Now when I tell someone I have lung cancer and they give me that look that I deserved it. I simply smile at them and tell them have a nice day oh and by the way you don’t need to smoke to get lung cancer and walk away.

When people ask me if I smoked, I tell them no and I start to educate them. I say, “Did you know…” Now they are educated and are aware that anyone can get lung cancer. It’s a win, win!

When people tell me “Well no one told you to smoke, you brought that upon yourself” I reply by saying, “You too can get lung cancer, anyone with lungs can get lung cancer.” So, don’t be too quick to judge because you might be next. I know that’s not a nice thing to say but sometimes you need to match their energy.

If this is happening to you, don’t take it personally. Many people are unaware and are uneducated about lung cancer.

Take it as a perfect opportunity to educate them and at the same time you are bringing awareness about lung cancer.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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