My husband, Chris, has Stage IV Lung Cancer. Many people do not know about Lung Cancer and think that it is like breast cancer. It is not. You can read about Chris’ Cancer in my previous posts (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). I will be writing about Chris’ cancer and how our family is managing, in the future.
- 220,000 people each year are diagnosed with Lung Cancer.
- Lung Cancer accounts for almost 30% of all cancer deaths per year. More than breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer COMBINED.
- Breast cancer research gets $750 million per year. Breast cancer is responsible for approximately 40,170 deaths per year. Lung Cancer research gets $267 million per year and is responsible for nearly 160,000 deaths per year.
- The five year survival rate for Lung Cancer is only 16%. For prostate cancer it is 100% and for breast cancer it is 89%.
- The five year survival rate for Lung Cancer has gone from 12% in the early 1970’s to 16% today. While the five year survival for breast cancer has gone from 75% in the early 1970’s to nearly 90% today.
- Between 20,000-30,000 people who have NEVER smoked are diagnosed with Lung Cancer EVERY year.
- Only 16% of people who are diagnosed with Lung Cancer have not had their cancer spread outside of the lung. With a breast cancer diagnosis, 50% have not had their cancer spread and with prostate cancer 90% of people have not had their cancer spread.
- Over half of the people diagnosed with Lung Cancer die within one year.
It is easy to blame the person who has Lung Cancer for their disease because they smoked. But what about the 20-30 thousand people who are diagnosed every year who haven’t ever smoked? Should they be blamed too? We don’t blame other cancers on people who are diagnosed with them.
There is a stigma attached to Lung Cancer: you must have done something to cause this to happen. This, in my opinion, is the reason for the disproportionate funding. If you have Lung Cancer, then you must have smoked and then you deserve to have cancer. It is faulty logic because many people who smoke do not get Lung Cancer. But anyone with lungs can get lung cancer. It doesn’t matter if you’ve smoked or not. So, unless you are a fish, you have a chance of getting Lung Cancer.
There is no cure for Lung Cancer when it has spread outside of the lung. I’m going to say that again, differently, because it is so important: There is no cure for Stage IV Lung Cancer.
Chris was 41 when he was diagnosed. He never smoked. There was no reason, at any time, to suspect that he might have Lung Cancer. He was not in a risk group. However, his Lung Cancer was at an advanced stage when they discovered it. There was no reason for them to be looking for it. Not one single reason. If his pleura wasn’t filled with liquid, if his doctor hadn’t ordered x-rays to take to a specialist, the cancer probably would not have been caught until it was too late to treat. As it is, there is no cure. There is only treatment.
My brother (the Pulmonologist at University of Michigan) tells me that “common things are common and uncommon things are uncommon.” Chris’ cancer is uncommon. Rates of Lung Cancer are described as “low” in people under 40 and the chances of being diagnosed with Lung Cancer increases with age. Chris was 41 when he was diagnosed, but that was with Stage IV – how long had he had Lung Cancer before it was found? No one knows, but it is certain he was 40 or under (remember he was diagnosed days after he turned 41).
There is no Lung Cancer celebrity spokesperson. Why not? Because in all likelihood, they did not survive long enough to be a spokesperson. There are no Lung Cancer “Survivors” who were diagnosed with Stage IV. There is no national campaign to put an end to Lung Cancer. There are no corporate sponsors. There is no color that people can identify with Lung Cancer (it is pearl) and it does not have an Awareness Month. I am not, by any means, begrudging those who have survived breast cancer their celebrations. But, sadly we will not be celebrating any cure for Chris’ Lung Cancer, because it doesn’t exist. In fact, it is a devastating diagnosis. Our lives have been forever changed by Lung Cancer. And when there are no more treatment options for Chris. . . it is something none of us want to face. But at some point we will have to face it. There is something horribly wrong with that.