I was riding on top of the world on a mountain bike in Colorado when I crashed and had to get checked out. After a few stitches, I was cleared to go home with some ice and ibuprofen.
That night I received a voicemail from my doctor noting a spot on my lung. He said it was probably nothing, but I should schedule a CT scan. I did so the next day. The physician’s assistant informed me there was a mass, but it was nothing to worry about since I was a young, healthy, active nonsmoker.
Two days later, a biopsy revealed a positive diagnosis for stage I lung cancer. I was stunned. It was the same disease that took my dad’s life 13 years earlier. He smoked two packs a day for 57 years, and while I smoked occasionally in college, that was more than 25 years ago.
I quickly became familiar with the question: ‘Did you smoke?’ It’s a logical question. We all know smoking causes lung cancer. But when people ask this, it brings up a range of emotions, usually annoyance and defensiveness of the three years I smoked. Though my doctors don’t know what caused my lung cancer, they say those few years likely weren’t a factor.
Until recently, like millions of others I thought lung cancer only affected smokers. I feel compelled to educate people about the increasing numbers of nonsmokers who contract lung cancer.
We need to change the way the world views lung cancer. We need to invest money in research and therapies as well as promote healthy lifestyles and prevention. It’s time to end the stigma. It’s time for change.
Promise invites cancer survivors to share their reflections. Email Promise@mdanderson.org.