No one deserves lung cancer

This past weekend, Lena and I went to the inaugural Free to Breathe 5K in Dallas. The event boasted more than 800 participants (and more than 600 runners/walkers), which is not too shabby for a first-year event. Free to Breathe is a lung cancer organization that hosts these events all over the country. Recently, it has also joined with the National Lung Cancer Partnership. The event held a special place in my heart because my great aunt, Sister Elise Todd, who I was named after, died of lung cancer a few years back. I was working for CURE when she was diagnosed and knew the prognosis would be bad. She went through her treatment and called herself a survivor until her recurrence a few years later. The disease took her in 2008. As you looked through the crowd on Saturday, you could spot the survivors. But unlike other cancer runs I've participated in, there weren't a lot of survivor t-shirts being worn. No crowds of pink or blue; I think I counted about four green shirts. One was Charles, who spoke to the crowd at the beginning of the race. He told of being diagnosed with prostate cancer, and on an incidental scan, they caught his lung cancer early. He told us he was a non-smoker. It seems that many survivors feel compelled to share whether they were a non-smoker or not because we have done such a good job promoting smoking cessation and the link between tobacco and lung cancer. Unfortunately, this has also created a stigma and a sense of guilt or blame for the patient. At the race, I had overheard someone mentioning that a lung cancer survivor instead tells people she's had breast cancer to avoid the stigma of lung cancer. Thankfully at events such as Free to Breathe and other lung cancer-centric meetings, survivors have a voice and can proudly say they've beaten the disease. I won't tell you whether Sister Elise was a smoker or not, because it doesn't matter. She was a lung cancer patient, and she didn't deserve lung cancer. No one does. Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers and one of the most deadliest, but it lacks the research and funding of other cancers--one of the problems organizations such as Free to Breath is trying to correct. And we are making progress. A new treatment for a subtype of lung cancer, primarily found in non-smokers, was submitted to the FDA for approval just this month. We're tackling lung cancer, probably more than any other cancer, with a three-pronged approach: prevention, screening and treatment, and rates of lung cancer in the U.S. are decreasing. So, with these inroads, although minor, let's hold our tongues when we want to ask: Smoking or non? What limits our success for lung cancer is not the lack of ideas--we have plenty of ideas-- it's the lack of funding. To get funding, you need awareness and you need events like this." –Joan Schiller, president and founder of the National Lung Cancer Partnership, Deputy Director Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at University of Texas Southwestern