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Through a Cancer Tragedy Came an Unexpected Passion

BY Kristina Corrales Raso
PUBLISHED May 16, 2016
Editor’s Note: This piece was submitted by a contributing writer and does not represent the views of CURE Media Group.
Let’s go on a journey back to the summer of 2002, when I was a teenager working as a barista at Starbucks in my hometown of Oxnard, California. I received a call that any child dreads: “Your mother is in an ambulance heading to the hospital. Get here as soon as you can.” My heart dropped, along with everything else I was doing, and I rushed over to the hospital in my little blue hatchback, dismissing speed limits and all driving etiquette. 

When I arrived, my healthy young mother was sitting calmly in her hospital bed, with her blonde hair draped over her shoulders. She told me she had a seizure a salon chair. A series of testing revealed results no one is ever prepared to hear: advanced lung cancer that had spread to her brain.  Lung cancer, a diagnosis that will shock you to the core, and take your world off its steady axis in an instant. It is a disease that forces you to stare mortality in the face and know your odds of surviving are five in 100.

And what is the first question that comes to mind when you hear someone has lung cancer? Is she getting the support she needs? How are her children? If we’re being honest, it’s probably: Did she smoke? This was a question my mom heard countless times when sharing her terminal diagnosis. And when she wasn’t asked, a slightly unsympathetic expression on the other person’s face spoke for itself, and made her feel ashamed about the cancer she had. Can you imagine being blamed for having cancer? It’s real.  And what is the no. 1 cancer killer in women?  By far, it’s lung cancer. 1 in 5 women with lung cancer never smoked, and the rates in women have doubled in the last 30 years. It is the least funded cancer per death in women and men, in the world.

The list goes on. Why are we blaming people for having cancer? I have a theory. If I can give a concrete reason for that person having cancer, then it won’t happen to me. In other words, blame the victim. When my mom had cancer, she struggled with losing her hair, severely burnt skin from radiation and a major toll it took on her physically, spiritually and emotionally. One struggle she did not expect, however, was the stigma of her disease. Her struggle brewed in me for years after she passed away in 2006. She was a journalist, an intellectual and now grandmother my son will never meet. She did not smoke, but didn’t feel anyone deserved to be blamed for the same disease. But the cancer that took her life, and over one million lives each year worldwide, continues to hide in the shadows of stigma.   

Years of working in branding and corporate marketing had me thinking: where is the pink ribbon for lung cancer? What is the color? I learned that one color is clear because it’s an invisible disease. Some people wear the color white, and others wear pearl. PEARL. What about the pearl, a beautiful, tangible object that represents wisdom, strength and history was the perfect recognizable symbol for lung cancer awareness. And with that, The Pearl Project was born, a worldwide movement to empower the lung cancer community, reverse the negative stigma and open up the conversation about lung cancer awareness. All with the concept to “think pearls for lung cancer awareness.” Because the first step is talking about it, and giving the community the voice to be heard, the movement and research funding will naturally follow.  

My passion for lung cancer awareness is just beginning, and I plan to change the way the world sees lung cancer, one pearl at a time.  To learn more visit: www.pearlproject.org
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