The Fight to HELP END THE Stigma associated with LUNG CANCER for smokers and ex-smokers
WHAT IS STIGMA?
Stigma is defined by the disapproval of, or discrimination against, a person or a group of people based on perceivable social characteristics that serve to distinguish them from other members of a society. Individuals and groups are stigmatized when they are judged negatively or experience discrimination because of some personal characteristic or behavior. Stigma affects a number of diseases, especially those that are feared and/or misunderstood, such as addiction, mental illness, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS and, of course, lung cancer. The stigma associated with lung cancer has distorted the reality of this disease as most people honestly believe they cannot get lung cancer if they never smoked. The truth is that if you have lungs you can get lung cancer.
WHAT IS MY GOAL?
My goal is to help end the stigma associated with lung cancer and all other forms of discrimination and prejudice but most importantly to convince smokers and ex-smokers diagnosed with lung cancer that they absolutely deserve the same respect, compassion and care as anyone else afflicted with cancer. I find it outrageous that many smokers and ex-smokers diagnosed with lung cancer have been led to believe that they deserve it, that it was self-inflicted, therefore they do not deserve treatments. Everyone with cancer or any other disease deserves and should receive treatments without discrimination. A lung cancer diagnostic is devastating to anyone, but the devastation for some smokers is simply something no one should be subjected to. For society to add isolation and shame to this disease is, in my opinion, one of the lowest form of dehumanizing another human being.
During my cancer treatment I met a young, single mother of four small children who suffered from a rare form of cancer. She felt very isolated because very little information was available and very few people were familiar with her specific cancer. She looked so lonely and scared, and on my last day of radiation treatment, she told me how unfair life was, and that if she had been diagnosed with lung cancer at least she would know she deserved it since she was a smoker. I simply told her that nobody deserves cancer and to hang in there as she was almost done with her treatments. The fact that she was not 30 years old yet and she truly believed that she would be deserving of lung cancer made me realize how incredibly well rooted the stigma of lung cancer was engrained in our society. At that point it became my goal, if I survived, to help end the stigma of lung cancer.
This stigma is partly responsible for many people not seeking treatments, even though great progress has been made in the last decade in the development of new drugs to treat lung cancer. Imagine what great progress could be made if the proper funding for research was available.
Lung cancer is very hard to diagnose in the early stages and there is no screening process in place for early detection. This often results in an advanced stage diagnosis for the patient. People with an increased risk of lung cancer from smoking or other factors, may consider annual lung cancer screening using x-ray and/or low-dose CT scans. Discuss your lung cancer risk with your doctor. Together you can decide whether lung cancer screening is right for you.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
We could start by refraining from judging others and try to understand that smoking is not a bad habit, it is an addiction which, like cancer is a disease. Unfortunately, the stigma associated with lung cancer is a deeply held belief and can be difficult to change for many but I truly hope I can help some people realize how their ignorance is inflicting so much pain on others who are simply victims of a wicked addiction. I believe that if we all took a good look at ourselves we may be less tempted to impose our judgment on others. To judge others is to judge oneself, because you say more about yourself than about others.