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Never-Smokers Get Lung Cancer Too: Finding Out the Hard Way


I had no idea until Dec. 6, 2017 that people who were healthy and had never smoked could get lung cancer!

At 53 years old, I had surgery to remove a slow-growing nodule that physicians had followed for two and a half years. They thought it was nothing of great concern, especially when a biopsy came back from Mayo Clinic a few months before my surgery reporting "no evidence of cancer." I soon find out that biopsies do not rule out cancer when pathology revealed during surgery that my nodule was 70 percent adenocarcinoma and 30 percent squamous cell carcinoma. I have spent this past year coming to the realization that just about everything surrounding my experience with lung cancer was extremely unique.

  1. My nodule was found extremely early on a routine chest X-ray appearing as a small shadow when it was just 1.2cm.
  2. Because never smokers do not qualify for per-screening for lung cancer, the fact that I just so happen to have an X-ray at a time the nodule could be visible and that my primary care physician caught it, was an extremely rare find.
  3. After two years the nodule grew to 2.4 cm, so a biopsy procedure was performed, but results came back no cancer.
  4. My nodule was a very rare type of cancer containing two types of cancer which is called adenoid squamous cell carcinoma.
  5. Such a very small percentage of never smokers find their lung cancer in stage 1 before it has spread to the lymph nodes, but mine was. I now have regular scans, but do not require any treatment because the surgeon was able to take out two lobes of my right lung to remove all of the cancer.

I would like to see a day when we are talking much more about early-stage lung cancer cures and how much longer people are living with lung cancer due to advanced treatments. I am proof that early detection saves lives, and I want to live to see the day when my adult daughters will have the opportunity for lung cancer preventative screenings, even if they have never smoked.

I am thankful my lung cancer was caught early, but because I fall among such a small percentage of people who have dealt with this disease, it makes it difficult to know how to use my story to educate and benefit others since many cannot relate as they battle more advanced stages. I simply try to tell my story to help raise awareness of lung cancer in people who have never smoked in order to erase the stigma and advocate for increased federal funding for lung cancer and more research looking at the link between genetic mutations and lung cancer in non-smokers, especially in women.

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