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 here...it'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, "Phew....at 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 others....you 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...