Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Newsweek Scoops Other Publications by Bringing Lung Cancer to the Attention of the Public!

Oh, wait.

Wasn't it there before?

The current media darling of the "suffering sweepstakes" crowd (fickle as it is) appears to be lung cancer. Let me be the first to say, I am ALL for it. My dad is currently battling locally advanced, super-aggressive lung cancer (in a very short time, it had spread "everywhere BUT" to another organ) -and seems to be doing super-well thanks to an "old school" combination of Carboplatin plus Taxol chemotherapy drugs and a new biologically-targeted therapy (i.e., one that does not kill healthy cells but tricks the bad cells into self-destructing), Tarceva. It is obviously a terrible, deadly, evil disease.

But what I am not for is the seeming backlash against other cancers, like breast cancer, as if no one dies from that, as if it doesn't strike young people (and much younger than lung for the most part), as if those who get breast cancer are not stygmatized in their own ways, just as those who get lung cancer.

The Newsweek Article starts from the premise that lung cancer kills more people annually than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined (some 160,000 Americans each year). That is AWFUL. And it doesn't just strike the "pack-a-day crowd", as they put it, see, for example Dana Reeve. In addition, the prognosis for a lung cancer patient tends to be truly dismal: something like 85% die within five years, but most of them will have died before one year has passed from their diagnosis. Making things even more disturbing is that there is no "clinically proven" diagnostic tool that has been PROVEN to detect lung cancer reliably in its early and still curable stages. Most people are diagnosed when they already are at my dad's stage - and my dad was one of those who was a non-smoker and had annual physicals, INCLUDING, a chest x-ray. One year, his lungs were clean, the next, he had a lymph node sticking out of his neck, which led his doctor to order a "Spiral CT Scan", which immediately informed us of my dad's condition: lots of tumors, all over the abdomen, no cure in sight. It has never been clear to us whether my dad is Stage IIIb or Stage IV, and frankly, we don't care as long as he does his protocol and gets better (which his scans say is actually happening.... no tumors anywhere except for the tiny, original primary tumor in the lung, which could be excised via radiation if it doesn't end up disappearing on its own...knock wood, or as we Jewish folks like to say to ward off the "evil eye" of assuming too much good fortune..."kinahura").

But in the news and in the media lately, there has been an undercurrent of resentment towards those who are in the "popular crowd" with regard to cancer - those with breast cancer, for example, which one doctor told me gets more research money devoted to it than ALL other cancers combined. Those with testicular cancer are arguably in the same crowd - their cancer is amazingly curable, even without resorting to chemo. Yoga Chickie's own husband was treated for testicular cancer three years ago, at the same time that the Chickie was fighting breast cancer (notice how I embed this factoid's not something that the Husband talks much about as he perceives that there is a stigma against anyone who would be so "weak" as to "allow themselves" to get cancer....which, sadly, is probably true, a sad fact that I have been mulling over quite a bit lately as my yoga teaching career veers off-course a mere month after my asking a certain uptown studio that must remain nameless if they might consider offering a yoga for breast cancer survivors workshop, with me as its teacher...thus officially outing myself....

(Brief break in monologue for another shout-out to Yoga Sutra for being the first studio in NYC to offer Yoga For Breast Cancer Survivors as a REGULARLY SCHEDULED WEEKLY CLASS!! YOU GO David Kelman and Christopher Hildebrandt!)

I am told by the girls on the General Discussion Board for the Young Survival Coalition that there is television commercial aimed at raising heart-disease awareness (the "Red Ribbon" disease), which commercial spotlights a woman grieving her late sister, who "had mammograms every year only to end up dying of heart disease, the silent killer" or something like that; you get the point. I am also told by the Young Survival ladies that lately, breast cancer patients/survivors are being sort of "ganged-up on" at support groups for having the "easier" cancer, for having the cancer that has a better survival right. Excuse me, but, uh...WHAT??? If we have such a really great survival rate, I sure wasn't pointed to that info in MY brochure.

And even the Newsweek article includes the following quote from a lung cancer survivor (aged 37, yes, this is terribly unfortunate):

"What was difficult was people automatically assumed I smoked. You'd never say 'How'd you get it?' to someone with breast cancer.'"


How many times have I had to field this VERY question or some other variation on it??!! "How'd you get it, did you have a family history?" "How'd you get it, did you have mammograms?" "How'd you get it, did you do self-exams?" "How'd you get it, were you older than 30 when you had your first child?" "How'd you get it, did you breastfeed?" "How'd you get it, did you take birth control pills?" The object of the questioning seemed to be to establish that the Ask-ee had either a family history or had done something that made breast cancer more of a probability than for the Ask-er. When the answer is, as it is for me, "No, I didn't have a family history of breast cancer," the Ask-er will often re-ask the question: "Really? No breast cancer in the family? NO ONE?" This is NOT the answer the Ask-er was hoping for.

It has always seemed to me that the point of these questions is to create distance between the Ask-er and the Ask-ee. If the Ask-er can find a way to distinguish herself from the Ask-ee then the Ask-er can walk away, saying, " least that won't happen to me because I have no family history" or basically, just fill in the blank after the "because". It's not something that I have no sympathy for (can you parse through those double negatives?). If you read my
memoir, Beauty and the Beast, you would know that I was TOTALLY one of those people who would look at women with breast cancer and say, "She's kind of fat, so that must be why she got breast cancer, and I'm not fat at all, so I won't get breast cancer or "She didn't have kids until she was 40, so she got breast cancer, and I was pregnant by 30, so I won't" or "She didn't nurse her children, so she got breast cancer, but I nursed for 2 full years, so I won't". But in the end, all of that comparing and contrasting simply fueled my anxiety about becoming ill, and it certainly did not keep me from getting breast cancer, as it turned out.

In truth, I feel a great deal of sympathy for anyone who has cancer, but especially those who have cancer and who ALSO feel isolated or stygmatized by their disease. I don't know what it would have felt like to have a disease that no one talked about, that had little research money spent on it (although, lord knows, I could still get a disease like this someday - having one bad disease doesn't insulate you from all don't necessarily get only one challenge per lifetime....). I look at the Yoga For Breast Cancer Survivors Class that I give at Sutra, and I wonder if there are women out there - men even, who wish there was such a class for them. All I can say to that is that my class may be called "Yoga for Breast Cancer Survivors", but it is open to anyone who wishes to come - whatever your personal struggle...and we all have them. Two of my students actually don't even have breast cancer, I think I mentioned earlier - they just have their reasons for wanting to be there, and we all respect that.

Getting back to the original theme of this post - lung cancer and how it is portrayed in the media - if there has not been enough coverage on lung cancer up until now, then at least now there will be. But I suspect that there has always been plenty of coverage, plenty of attention, plenty of talk, plenty of lawsuits against the Tobacco Industry. When I was a wee girl of three years of age, I was already badgering my grandpa, Benjamin Epstein, to quit smoking because it is "Dirty, Disgusting and Dangerous" (he did quit smoking eventually, live to be 87 and saw his photograph become the cover art for one of Philip Roth's novels).

I was THREE when I began my attack on Grandpa's smoking habit. It was 1968, I think we had one television set in our house, and I didn't even read yet. But I knew. I don't think it makes much sense to pretend that any of this is a shock, any more than it is ALWAYS a shock when someone young like Dana Reeve is diagnosed with ANYTHING vile and evil and it is ALWAYS a shock when ANYONE has to suffer any sort of illness. Smoking is bad. Lung cancer is something that can happen to anyone. Smoking puts one at higher risk. But so does living and getting older.

So, is lung cancer due an "overdue moment in the spotlight", as Newsweek asserts? I can't honestly say that this rings true for me at all - seems to me like lung cancer has been in the spotlight for as long as I can remember. But if recent news of the death of Peter Jennings and the illness of Dana Reeve can bring research dollars to early detection, then have at it...



Julie said...

As, what is termed, a "previvor" I find myself in an odd place. If I say "Why, yes, I just had double mastectomies" please assume the dreaded cancer...when I explain that indeed I had no cancer diagnosis then I'm looked at askew and there is no place for the emotion of, what, pity, empathy, sympathy, they don't even know what, that the person speaking to me has. In some cases, once I say I didn't have cancer, their attitude is comparable to someone having chosen augmentation. In others, the person feels it is okay to really interogate me much more than I think they would if I had had cancer. Still in others there is simple confusion. It's an interesting place to be. Would I take a yoga for breast cancer survivors class? I'm not a breast cancer survivor even if I've gone through everything short of chemo and radiation. It's an interesting place to be.

Anonymous said...

I've never heard of someone having their breasts removed when they don't have cancer. I don't have an attitude, rather I'm genuinely curious. I'd like to better understand this, if you're willing to share.

yoga chickie said...

For information on having one's breasts removed PRIOR to having breast cancer, see:

Julie, I am dismayed to hear that anyone would have had the reactions you describe. That is just outside of my comprehension. Clearly, we are NOT talking about breast augmentation! How could someone think that?!!!

Of course, when I heard you were going in for the surgery, my assumption was breast cancer, but of course when you told me it was not, I understood immediately, without having to ask a million questions, that you had good reason to take this drastic action.

I doubt you would have any reason to take a yoga for breast cancer survivors class - unless you emotionally felt an affinity for women who have survive breast cancer, as a group, and there is no reason why you should. It is simply a personal thing I have found - there is a small group of women out there who like to be around breast cancer survivors for their own personal reasons...


Julie said...

Lauren, I surely understand for remember that in my circumstances while *I* might not have had a cancer diagnosis, every other woman in my family has and, as a result, I'm well aware of and integrated into the "breast cancer society." My point was, rather, with regards to your post about "groups" that someone like me has a very difficult time. It's a wierd place to be in...

Dear anonymous, for more information on my personal journal, you can read the archives of my blog which should be linked through my name.

yoga chickie said...

Julie..I can only imagine...xo, Lauren

Anonymous said...

I've gone to Lauren's Breast Cancer Survivor's class altough I am not a survivor. It is a great class and since it's small, I get the extra attention that I need since I am just starting practicing yoga. I was concerned at first that I wouldn't fit in, but I felt VERY at home there. I also really respect Christopher and Yoga Sutra for having the class there, it made me want to go there for other classes as well.


yoga chickie said...

Thanks, Beth...I really like the point you make about Christopher and Yoga Sutra even HAVING the class there....there are studios around here that won't even consider it. Sad, isn't it?


Anonymous said...


"Dirty, Disgusting, and Dangerous!" Indeed, I remember you saying that - so cute it was. Even though your father and I instilled the concept of the evils of smoking into your receptive young brain, you later did succumb to the evil smoking beast for periods of time. Note: The attraction is still there, especially for very young women.

Personally, being the wife who is engaged in the fight for the life of her husband with lung cancer, I am happy when the light of publicity shines on this terrible disease, because maybe it will hasten a cure or at least new and better treatments. So often people assume that those who have lung cancer caused it because they smoked. Not true at all. When I tell people my husband has lung cancer, I feel compelled to say that he is a nonsmoker so that they will know that he is not responsible. It is time now that we do focus more attention on lung cancer research just as it has been and is so keenly focused on breast cancer research, because people who suffer from lung cancer are not bad people - even though many may have smoked. Perhaps then some greater and faster progress can be made against this insidious disease.

Finally, just noting a Freudian mistake - your husband had testicular cancer, not lung cancer. Dad and hubby are not identical.


yoga chickie said...

OH MY GOD!!! I can't believe I said that the Husband had...well never mind. He had Lance Armstrong's cancer - testicular. I am embarassed and also laughing hard. So, how are things going? As you sit and wait for a son-in-law to come out of his brain scan for a possible aneurism? WHAT THE HELL IS IT WITH OUR FAMILY?

Not funny. Not anything. Just really upsetting.


Anonymous said...

My son-in-law (not your hubby) but your sister's husband, received a negative report from his neurologist last night (reading didn't show any problem in brain). The MRI had not yet been read by the radiologist. There will be more tests. But let us hope that this will pass soon, and get off the health plate for our family. What I don't understand is that when I hear about the news, I continue to have an optimistic reading about it in my head.

yoga chickie said...


I think I know why. I think you know why too. I am not going to say more than that here.


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About Me

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Northern Westchester, New York, United States
I live by a duck pond. I used to live by the East River. I don't work. I used to work a lot. Now, not so much. I used to teach a lot of yoga. Now not so much. I still practice a lot of yoga though. A LOT. I love my kids, being outdoors, taking photos, reading magazines, writing and stirring the pot. Enjoy responsibly.


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