Reprogramming Stigma

How do and can we change the stigma that is strongly placed when we speak about lung cancer? It was suggested that this cancer only stems from smoking so if you smoke then that’s the stain you get.

Now that we’re seeing more and more nonsmokers being diagnosed with lung cancer the thought of “Hum, maybe this isn’t the case”. The real discussion is does it matter in the land of to breathe or not to breathe, because as I always say: To breathe is not discriminatory.

So how do we reprogram the word while giving it the substance and attention it deserves?

Challenging lung cancer misconceptions

I did an interview a few years back with a noted lung cancer advocate and thriver, and she nailed it on the head. "Anyone can be diagnosed with lung cancer if they have lungs”. It was such a bold and truthful point I had to sit and think on it for a minute when she said it.

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Many people believe only one set of circumstances leads to a diagnosis. Sometimes the environment can be a culprit and because of missed callouts, some people don’t factor in those very early symptoms that may be an issue.

The labeling of this cancer doesn’t automatically lead many to believe they have it when they in fact do show certain signs of the cancer. The assumptions that are based on this stigma can be detrimental.

Breaking down stereotypes

Reprogramming the conversation is about allowing shared experiences to eradicate the stigma. The more people who are comfortable educating those on their condition that it is not only a smoker’s possibility but everyone is fair game here.

Unfortunately, as soon as lung cancer is mentioned automatically the assumptions fall in line, where then an impactful conversation is missed because the assumption clouds the message. I always say it doesn’t matter if the person smoked or not but for those looking in from the outside, it limits the chance to explain the varied experiences, as even a non-smoker will get grouped in the same bubble.

It’s a great balance of hearing a smoker’s story as well as a nonsmoker's experience to educate the public on an even ground.

Educating and empowering

I get it that some people may not want to be bothered breaking it down in how their cancer has changed their lives, and for others to understand the full picture. It’s enough to cope with the new reality and now explain how it changes the reactions.

The few that don’t know and don’t care and stick with the labels, there are just as many who want to know more, and many have a lightbulb moment when they understand the complexity of lung cancer, and that the stigma could use retooling.

Now seeing the state of where we’re at in how stigma can stifle the conversation; what is your responsibility in educating those about your lung cancer? Here are some tips for reprogramming the stigma in stating the conversation:

  • Let me tell you my symptoms as a non-smoker
  • Did you know secondhand smoke affects 15-35% of non-smokers?
  • There are triggering words that not exactly true about lung cancer- let’s talk about it
  • Express other factors of lung cancer other than smoking (environment, family history)

It's a long hike in educating but worth it in reaching a few.

 The time to fight is now, with integrity, grace, hope, and a smile….when you feel like it

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