Sunday, November 13, 2005What do you mean, she never smoked?
Sunday, November 13, 2005
By Susan Swartz
Published by: The Press Democrat
First, you get a shocker diagnosis and then you get treated like a leper. Or, worse, like a smoker.
That can compel a sick person to shout all the way to Sacramento, like Nancy Michener of Pasadena, who has terminal lung cancer and calls herself a "never-smoker." In July, Nancy proposed that the governor proclaim November as Lung Cancer Awareness Month.
There are as many disease months as there are disease awareness bracelets. Proclamations are routine and rarely even make the news. But to people with a nightmarish condition an official word from the top is an important recognition that could shake loose more research money and might also educate people who are at risk and don't know it.
Nancy, who belongs to the Lung Cancer Alliance, a national advocacy group for patients, wrote a draft proclamation focusing on the often ignored fact about lung cancer - namely, that you don't have to be a smoker to get it.
After much correspondence with Sacramento, Nancy learned the proclamation was a go: On Nov. 1, Gov. Schwarzenegger declared November as Lung Cancer Awareness Month.
But the crucial awareness that Nancy included in her version was missing.
"The focus of the proclamation is on smoking," she says. "Nothing at all about screening, nothing about the majority of people diagnosed not being current smokers, nothing at all about compassion for people living with lung cancer, nothing at all about research on this disease being severely underfunded."
It ignored what Nancy - a bike-riding, tennis-playing, asymptomatic 44-year-old nonsmoker - discovered more than five years ago: Anyone can get lung cancer.
The governor's proclamation does mention that "a small percentage of deaths can also be attributed to secondhand smoke, asbestos or radon exposure," but the main message is on preventing tobacco use. A spokesperson for the governor said she sees no problem with the proclamation and the wording will stand.
Few would want to be in the position of saying "thanks, but no thanks" to the governor, but that's what happened earlier this month when 200 people gathered at a cancer survivors' park in Santa Rosa.
Joyce Neifert called the proclamation "misleading and damaging." Her husband, Steve, died of lung cancer last month, but his diagnosis was delayed because "once he told doctors he never smoked, they crossed lung cancer off the list."
Laurianne Kooning, a 25-year-old new mother whose doctors first thought she had asthma or pneumonia, died last month of lung cancer. She was a swimmer, never smoked and grew up in a tobacco-free home.
Why did they get lung cancer? Why did Dana Reeve, the widow of actor Christopher Reeve who never smoked, get lung cancer? Why did my mother-in-law, Eloise Klose, who never smoked, die of lung cancer?
Thanks to effective anti-tobacco campaigns, we all recognize the connection between smoking and lung cancer. But why do some people smoke for decades and live unscathed and some adolescent smokers get zapped at middle age? Why are 60 percent of new lung cancer cases in people who no longer smoke - including many who gave it up long ago - and 15 percent in people who never touched tobacco? Why are women two to three times more vulnerable than men? Why are more young women than ever before getting lung cancer?
Could it be hormones, air pollution, diet or something else? Are we missing a crucial link between lung cancer in the smoker and nonsmoker that has nothing to do with tobacco? If we only keep blowing smoke, we may never have the answers.
Posted by Lynda :: 5:07 PM :: 0 people are more aware ---------------------------------------