November is Lung Cancer Awareness month. Last November I was hospitalized with H1N1 and pneumonia. In January I had a biopsy that confirmed non-small-cell lung cancer, stage IV. My lung cancer is not due to smoking, but for sake of transparency, I quit smoking 20 years ago. Half of all lung cancers occur in people who have already quit smoking. Here are some surprising facts:
• Lung cancer kills almost twice as many American women as breast cancer annually and three times as many men as prostate cancer.
• Roughly 10 percent to 15 percent of lung cancer patients have never smoked.
• The National Cancer Institute estimated it spent only $1,638 per lung cancer death, compared to $13,519 per breast cancer death, $11,298 per prostate cancer death, and $4,588 per colorectal cancer.
Early detection is critically important to improve the chances of curing lung cancer, since this cancer tends to metastasize or spread at an early stage. In patients where the cancer has already advanced, such as mine, detection can still help to prolong life and improve its quality.
In retrospect, I should have paid closer attention to some of the symptoms I had. Hopefully the list below, while certainly not complete, will serve to alert readers to talk with their physicians: a persistent cough, blood in sputum/spit with a brownish tinge, sudden, significant drop in weight that isn’t the result of dieting or exercise, shortness of breath, inexplicable fatigue, recurring bouts of pneumonia, bronchitis and other such infections, change in voice quality/hoarseness that persists.
It’s been one year since I heard the words “lung cancer” altering my life forever, but for the better. I feel healthier today than I did last November, despite the bleak prognosis. My new mission is to educate people about lung cancer. There are no pink ribbons, no massive media involvement, but one thing is certain: lung cancer is on the rise and can affect anyone.