[In Part 1, Terry described her diagnosis and initial treatment.]
First, thank you so much to my colleagues and friends who have written in response to this blog. Your support and good wishes help me enormously, especially during the moments when I feel discouraged.
I met an elderly patient who recently had major surgery for lung cancer. I was struggling to do my 30 minutes on the treadmill, and she just leaned over and said “Just have to keep going – don’t let yourself give up”. I think that is the key – we can’t always have a positive attitude, but we have to just acknowledge the feelings and then work through each setback. I see it each time I am in the clinic – patients who are dealing with advanced cancer, side effects of treatment, pain – and they just keep going on, often with a champion by their side and with amazing courage. And that is where the presence of friends and messages of support and hope are so important. “Inspiring” may be trite, but watching these patients and hearing from friends is inspiring for me.
I have been thinking of the stigma associated with lung cancer. When people learn of my diagnosis, inevitably they ask if I smoked (which I did, more than 35 years ago). According to Lung Cancer Canada, the stigma associated with lung cancer and smoking is greater than with other illnesses, and can affect quality of life and perhaps disease outcome. I am not certain to what extent the stigma associated with lung cancer still exists. Perhaps that is why lung cancer does not seem to have the same voice of advocacy as other forms of cancer, such as breast cancer. But if so, the stigma is ill deserved. First, there are forms of lung cancer that are less likely to be associated with smoking and several of the patients I have known have never smoked or did so in the distant past. They hardly feel that they are to blame for having this illness. Second, there are many other illnesses that are related to individual behaviours and lifestyles – we don’t blame the patient for having each of those illnesses. And cancer, like so many other diseases, is in many cases multi-factorial – that is, related to a variety of behavioural, lifestyle, environmental and other events – so that trying to assign a single behaviour or risk factor as the cause for the disease in any one individual may not make sense. Lung cancer has been associated with exposure to radon and to second-hand smoke for example.
What we cannot deny is the importance of lung cancer in Canada. Lung cancer is the ‘most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers). It is the leading cause of death from cancer for both men and women in Canada. About 1 in 12 Canadian men is expected to develop lung cancer during his lifetime and one in 13 will die from it. About 1 in 14 Canadian women is expected to develop lung cancer during her lifetime and one in 17 will die from it.’
So regardless of the causes, we need to do more research and action in prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment for lung cancer. I am lucky in that I am benefiting from the advances in cancer treatment, but there are many other patients who are unable to benefit from these drugs right now. Lung cancer is not going to disappear any time soon, and we need to continue to find ways of keeping new cases from occurring and helping those affected live longer and healthier lives.
[Continued in Part 3, where Terry talks about setbacks]