Lung Cancer Awareness Month opens up conversation around lung health, fights to break stigma
DELMARVA – “Lung cancer was not on my radar. I had developed a case of bronchitis. My primary care doctor ordered a chest x-ray just to make sure I didn’t have pneumonia and they saw something on my lungs,” Lung Cancer Survivor & Advocate Deena Cook said.
Deena Cook is a wife, mother, grandmother, and in 2012 she added another title to that list.
“So I went into surgery and came out with missing my lower left lobe. Then, I had my husband come out and tell me I have lung cancer,” Cook said.
November marks National Lung Cancer Awareness Month, a time dedicated to shedding light on stories like Deena’s. When even in 2021, a diagnosis comes with a stigma even if you’ve never picked up a cigarette.
“I have a whole group of patients that have a type of lung cancer called adenocarcinoma and they have no smoking history at all. So it’s not about what causes it, it’s about how you treat it,” Lung & Cardiothoracic Surgery Specialist Dr. Kurt Wehberg said.
“Because of the stigma associated with the disease, even politicians don’t want to stand up and support it because there are so many people in the general population that will why is he/she supporting people that cause their disease,” Cook said.
Health experts say they’ve been able to save more lives over the years thanks to advancements in technology.
“Back in the 2000s when we used to diagnose a patient at the late stage, a patient would be coming in coughing up blood. Nowadays we’re way ahead of that. We don’t let it get to that point anymore. We do CT scans on a yearly basis for patients who are at high risk and we can detect these things early and have them only at Stage 1 instead of Stage 4,” Dr. Wehberg said.
Due to those advancements, Deena is now a 2-time Lung Cancer survivor and she refers to herself as a Lung Cancer warrior. Yet, she says her fight isn’t over just yet.
“I was frankly appalled at the lack of research funding for what is the leading cause of cancer death by 50,000 people a year,” Cook said.
“Lung cancer awareness is a major, major problem. So we need to teach every patient about that,” Dr. Wehberg said.
“If you are at high risk, please just go talk to your doctor and get that CT scan. It’s a low dose and it takes like seconds. It could literally save your life,” Cook said.
Now, Cook is on a schedule of 6-month CT check-in scans to help detect future pop ups or the cancer returning. As of now, she’s cancer-free and stable.
Health experts say reoccurrences aren’t uncommon, as 55% of stage 1 lung cancer patients have a reoccurrence within 2 to 5 years.
To get more information on the disease, you can visit one of many resources at www.go2foundation.org