Sunday, May 26, 2013

No One Deserves to Die.

I want to talk to you all about something that is very important to me, a topic that is very sensitive and very hard for me to talk about at times so bear with me.  If I didn't think this was important, I wouldn't talk about it but I would like people to try to think differently.  

A bunch of ads started popping up on subways a few years ago.  They said things like "Cat lovers deserve to die" and "hipsters deserve to die."  Naturally, people freaked out about it a bit.  A quick google search or capturing the QR code on the page would've led you to this website:  At the time, it featured a few facts and a countdown to revealing one of the biggest killers in our day and age.  A few days later, all was revealed:  the ad campaign and website were from the national lung cancer alliance.  

Lung cancer kills more people each year than colon, breast, and prostate cancer combined, and yet of the four cancer types, the least amount of research funding is dedicated towards finding a cure for lung cancer.  If caught early, the survival rate for breast cancer is 88%.  For prostate cancer, nearly 100%, and for colon cancer, 74%.  With lung cancer, the average five year survival is 14%.  FOURTEEN FREAKING PERCENT.  Let's say seven of your friends were diagnosed with lung cancer (which honestly, without further research, is very likely).  One of them would live.  One out of seven.  

There is this perception that people who are diagnosed with lung cancer deserve that they get.  They smoked.  They worked with asbestos.  They didn't check their basement for radon.  That means they deserve it, right?  Especially if they smoke.  Anyone who smokes obviously deserves to die from it.  Nevermind that you are waaaaaaay more likely to develop heart disease than lung cancer.  If you smoke, you have about a 17% chance of developing lung cancer.  I grant you this is way more than the .5% chance non-smokers have of developing the disease.  But I highly doubt that when anyone smoked their first cigarette that they were thinking "when I'm fifty-six, I will be diagnosed with lung cancer."  Even though cervical cancer is primarily linked with HPV--a sexually transmitted disease--I highly doubt you would tell a woman suffering from cervical cancer they deserved it for whoring it up.  

In case you were wondering why this matters to me, why this smokers disease matters to me, is because it has touched my life multiple times.  When I was born, my grandfather was already in the hospital to greet me because he was receiving treatment for lung cancer.  He died from the disease when I was two.  He left behind four daughters.  When I was in middle school, his second youngest daughter, my aunt Karen was diagnosed with cancer.  She fought hard, receiving chemo therapy, radiation, and eventually having her lung removed at Johns Hopkins, the number one cancer hospital in the country.  And still she died when I was a freshman in high school.  

Not long after that, her sister, my Aunt Sara was diagnosed with lung cancer.  The one blessing from Aunt Karen's death was that all of her sisters started getting yearly CT scans.  The doctors found a nearly in-detectable mass in her lung and she had surgery and chemo therapy.  It has been six years, making her officially a cancer survivor.  

In June of 2011, I was working at Eastern University for the summer when I received a call asking me to come home for the weekend.  I grumbled, because I was supposed to work that weekend but I drove down.  My parents were separated at the time but all four of us, both parents, my brother and I, gathered at the house where I grew up.  My mom proceeded to tell my brother and I that she had been diagnosed with cancer.  One doctor was sure that it was lung cancer and another was sure that it was lymphoma.  We desperately hoped it was lymphoma but the biopsy soon revealed one of the worst cancer diagnoses you can possible get:  extensive stage small cell lung cancer.  

I won't quote you statistics or tell you all of the facts about lung cancer staging and the differences between small cell and non-small cell lung cancer.  What I will tell you is that I thought I was the one who was dying.  Because life would never, and hasn't been, the same since.  With that kind of diagnosis, it wasn't a sure thing that mom would make it to see me graduate in May 2012.  That weekend and in the coming months, I kissed visions of my mom at my wedding or holding my children good bye.  I said good bye to many years of birthdays, holidays, and life events.  I said good bye to life as I knew it.  

My mom has beaten the odds so far.  She has had chemo and radiation and her last two scans have shown that the tumors in her lungs and lymph nodes are stable.  The doctor has even used the words "years" for survival.  But he has not once mentioned a cure, not once has he said "we can beat this."  Even from the beginning, he has said we would treat this like a chronic disease that needs to be managed, not beaten.  

For the record, since I know you are dying to know, my mom, my aunts, and my granddad all smoked.  My granddad smoked until he died.  My Aunt Karen was diagnosed with lung cancer seven years after she quit smoking, my Aunt Sara was diagnosed about eight years after she quit, and my mom was diagnosed five years after she quit.  I know people are curious but it really pisses me off when they ask that question, like it's my mom's fault that she got sick.  Think before you speak please.  

The whole point of this post is not to get you to petition for more lung cancer research or to donate money for research, though I would love it if you would.  If the public doesn't demand more research, it won't happen.  My goal is to get you to think about how you perceive the disease and the people who are diagnosed with it.  If you drive drunk, you don't think you are going to be the one to wrap your car around a telephone pole and die.  I'm not saying that is something you're supposed to do (obviously) but I am saying that no one thinks they are going to be the one bad things happen to.  Think before you speak because no one deserves to die from cancer.  

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