Months ago, at Genentech, I sat in a room with about 9 other Lung Cancer Survivors. Pretty much the only thing I had in common with the other survivors was being a survivor of Lung Cancer.
We discussed many topics around treatment and care. One topic, The Lung Cancer Stigma, was only touched on briefly. Probably a good thing since the whole group got pretty revved up by this one. Honestly, I still am.
The stigma that lung cancer is a self-inflicted disease caused by smoking is very much alive and thriving in the general public. Many people and organizations are going above and beyond the call of duty to change this.
What makes me bothered are two things that I see survivors doing. 1. They introduce themselves as non-smokers with lung cancer and; 2. They are saying they too, are equally as frustrated with the stigma.
Is it because someone hears that you have lung cancer, therefore she must think you deserve it? What about every time you state, “I’m a non-smoker with Lung Cancer,” you make a former smoker with lung cancer think, “I guess they didn’t deserve it, but do they think I do?”.
I hate the topic of smoking status. I avoid it like…well…cancer if I could! It could be because I can’t say, “I’m a never smoker.” Or, is it because I see the look on a former smoker/survivors face when someone says, “I have lung cancer and I’m a never smoker.”?
I accept that all humans have their own opinions on the topic of smoking, lung cancer, and the Lung Cancer Stigma. The only behavior I can control, though, is my own.
Once upon a time I was eager to volunteer that I had never smoked (that is, when they didn’t ask me first). However, I made the decision several years ago to no longer volunteer that information. In part, it is an expression of solidarity with others who have this disease (smoking history status be damned). But, it is also my way of trying to make it a non-issue. Because, I resent it. The stigma, the question, the misguided perception that anyone might deserve a disease and frankly, the occasional poster children status of non-smokers. In truth, there are only two reasons that my non-smoking history might be worth mentioning. One, so that people realize that anyone can get lung cancer. And two, because a diagnosis of lung cancer is often delayed or even entirely overlooked in non-smokers.
So, I guess that’s my long-winded way of saying, I agree!
Great to hear from you Linnea; especially on this topic. I’m pleased to know I am not alone on this. 🙂
Bless you for rejecting being in the good girl club. I don’t face that dilemma with my ovarian cancer but life is full of these fault lines and the courageous folks don’t sell out. You don’t have a choice in having cancer but you do have a choice in how you act with cancer. I am so honored to know you!
Thank you Ms Marcy. I don’t think anyone has ever told me they are honored to know me before. I’m blushing!
My mom had lung cancer and she was a former smoker. It made me so sad (and mad) to hear her say “I just feel dumb because I smoked and now I have lung cancer”. She had quit 20 years before her diagnosis. This was years ago before gene mutation testing, etc. No one should be made to feel like cancer is their fault! “All you need are lungs” to get lung cancer!
Thank you again for sharing your life with us Kim!
Thanks for sharing back! 🙂
Compassion for all people and critters is a good thing.
This really bothers me. If the topic comes up, I like to educate people about the facts. According to the WHO, the leading cause of lung cancer is air pollution … sure, that also includes smoking and if you smoked there is a higher risk, but pollution from cars, industries, households, etc has a higher overall impact.
Well said, Martin! I also take the time to educate when I’m asked. Most of the people that I’ve run across grew hearing the marketing campaigns behind the anti-smoking TV advertisements put out by the American Lung Association in the 70’s and 80’s. I consider it my responsibility to debunk that myth!
Thank you both Martin and Kelly! Really, you are doing a great service by educating others.
correction – this has to say ‘a’ leading cause not ‘the’, I misread the report. Still bothers me.
Like Linnea, I no longer volunteer that I am a never smoker because I don’t want to promote the stigma. However, just as women who had HIV were the key to unlocking the HIV stigma, I think never smokers who have lung cancer will be key to unlocking the LC stigma and getting more funding for NSCLC as well as SCLC research. I share my never smoker status when I think it might help more people realize that ANYONE who has lungs can get lung cancer, but I emphasize that NO ONE deserves to have lung cancer.
I’m interested in your opinion, Kimmy — do you think my LC story on this page promotes stigma? If so, how might I reword it fix that problem? http://action.lung.org/site/TR?pg=informational&sid=7052&fr_id=9911
I think you do a great job at deciding when and where to include information about smoking status. You are 100% correct that anyone with lungs can get lung cancer!
Your bio on the Lung Force Walk page (http://action.lung.org/site/TR?pg=informational&sid=7052&fr_id=9911) does not reinforce stigma what so ever. Excellent piece.
I am in complete agreement. In fact, I’ll flat out tell you that I’m sick of hearing about it. I understand why it’s important that people know you only need lungs to get lung cancer.
But sometimes I feel that these campaigns downplay that smoking really is a dangerous thing (and not just because of lung cancer). Just another perspective.
I, too, have stopped volunteering the information. I’m not ‘proud’ of the fact that I’m a never-smoked lung cancer patient. That doesn’t make me somehow better than someone who did smoke.
For the record, I was super anti-smoking long before I ever cared about lung cancer. It had more to do with being a gross waste of money and time and much less to do with health issues!
Apologies if I’ve offended my puffing friends. Smoker or not, I still love you. 😊