"Did you smoke?" It's the first question everyone asks when they learn I have lung cancer. I think non-smokers ask because they hope I'll say yes, so they can feel safe. But none of us is "safe."
I was about to celebrate my 30th anniversary of being treated for and cured of Hodgkin's disease in April 2005, when I was diagnosed with lung cancer. I was shocked. I've never smoked. I eat well. I work out. I'm 49 years old, an attorney, and the mother of two young daughters.
After that initial shock, my husband, Bob, and I went to work researching our options. I chose to enroll in a clinical trial at UC Davis of a new molecularly targeted agent, Erbitux, in combination with standard chemotherapy.
Bob and I drive from the Bay Area to Sacramento every few weeks for treatments. My last PET/CT scan, in January, showed my cancer is in partial remission. There are no new tumors and those that showed up on the scan were stable or receding. Our hope is to stay close to the cutting edge of research so that we can continue to take advantage of new treatments like Erbitux as they are developed.
These advances might occur more rapidly without the stigma attached to lung cancer. Because people regard lung cancer as a disease of smokers, and because smoking is a modifiable behavior, it engenders less sympathy than breast or prostate cancer. The stigma is unfair to lung cancer patients like me who have never smoked, but it's also unfair to patients who were smokers. Modifiable behaviors can contribute to heart attacks, but people who have heart attacks aren't blamed for their heart disease. Perhaps if more people realized nonsmokers also get this illness, there would be more support for research to find a cure.
For information about cancer support groups available in the greater Sacramento region, please visit the Cancer Resource Center on the first floor of the UC Davis Cancer Center or call (916) 734-5935. Information is also available online in the "Patients & Visitors" area of our Web site at www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/cancer.