In early 2006, my husband Gord Swan had gone to his doctor about a dry cough that wouldn’t go away. When his doctor sent him for an x-ray, I remember thinking that his doctor was being overly cautious. After all, how serious could a cough be? Even after the x-ray came back showing a shadow on the lung, we did not entertain the possibility of lung cancer. Lung cancer was a smoker’s disease and my husband had never smoked, nor had he been exposed to second hand smoke at work or in the home.
Not only were we shocked with the diagnosis of lung cancer, we were dismayed to learn that more people die of lung cancer than breast cancer, colorectal cancer and prostate cancer combined.
During my husband’s cancer journey, we experienced firsthand the stigma that goes with lung cancer. We found ourselves explaining repeatedly to health care professionals and others that no, my husband did not smoke, he had never smoked.
I am dismayed by the lack of awareness of lung cancer. Most people I talk to are still surprised to learn that lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in Canada.
I’ve also come to realize that no one deserves to get lung cancer, regardless of whether they currently smoke, used to smoke or have never smoked. We need to overcome the stigma associated with lung cancer and ensure that it gets the attention – and the research funding – it deserves. It’s up to us – the family and friends of those who have been struck by lung cancer – to make sure that happens.
My story does not have a happy ending. Despite undergoing aggressive chemo and radiation in the summer of 2006, we found out in late 2007 that Gord’s cancer had spread to his bones. He passed away a short time later. The odds were against him – 85% of lung cancer patients don’t make it to the five-year mark. Perhaps if he’d got that cough checked out earlier. Perhaps if we’d known more about lung cancer.
I’m telling my story in the hopes that others will read it and become more aware about lung cancer.