How Lung Cancer Broke My Heart


November is National Lung Cancer Awareness month. This is a little known fact coming out of Breast Cancer Awareness last month in October.  And yet, the statistics on lung cancer in this country are staggering.  In 2012 the Lung Cancer Alliance put out these facts about this horrendous disease.

  1.  Lung Cancer is the 2nd leading cause of deaths in the United States behind Heart Disease
  2. Lung Cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in every ethnic group
  3. Nearly 80% of new Lung Cancer cases are former or never smokers
  4. The percentage of patients who will live beyond 5 years after diagnosis is a low 15.9% (in comparison to breast cancer patients who live beyond 5 years is 89%).

Can you even believe what you’ve just read?  And the statistics for women with Lung Cancer is even grimmer.  Chew on this:

  1.  Lung Cancer kills more women than any other cancer, nearly 200 per day.  Lung Cancer overtook breast cancer in deaths in 1987 and is estimated to claim the lives of over 72,000 women this year alone!
  2. Over 25,000 women who have NEVER smoked will be diagnosed with Lung Cancer this year.  That’s because the biology of the disease is different in women.
  3. The overall 5 year survival rate of women with Lung Cancer is a low 18.4%.

Why is the survival rate of this disease so low?  The first answer is that very few cases are diagnosed early enough when the cancer is most curable.  The second answer, and the one I find so hard to stomach, is because so little federal funding is committed to Lung Cancer research.

Does this sit well with any of you?  Is this alarming to you at all?

My Dad and I on my wedding day!

In late July 2009 my Dad, Bill, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer.  By the time they found the first mass it had already spread to his lungs, his throat and to his brain.  He went through 2 weeks of radiation before the cancer spread to his spinal column in which case the disease was now mobile and could deposit itself anywhere along his spine.  Soon after he started chemo and was put on oxygen.  Within 3 months he developed pneumonia that never really went away and eventually led to the collapse of one lung.  Within 5 months of diagnosis he was gone (January 2010).  Just like that my Dad was gone.

The weekend of his diagnosis and last time he really looked like himself.

Although I lived in Seattle at the time I was fortunate enough to be with him for longer periods of time throughout those 5 months.  I was able to come home and be with him when he was diagnosed and I was so glad I did because that was the last time I really recognized my Dad.  After that the cancer just ravaged his body and turned him into this hollow shell.  This man who had been my protector, my buddy, my first love, was now wilting and withering in front of my eyes.

A little over a month before he passed and the last picture I took of him.

He was too young to die (67).  I was too young to lose a parent (33).  My first son had the privilege of knowing his grandfather but now Aden has no recollection.  My second son will never know the man who raised me and loved me so well.  And that makes me so sad.

So why do I share this with you?  Because cancer sucks…any cancer.  But given the statistics Lung Cancer sucks bad!  And while our breasts are getting all the attention (and federal funding) our lungs are suffering.  Please check out the Lung Cancer Alliance website to read more about this crucial topic and find out if you are at risk, how to go about getting screened, and how to take a stand against Lung Cancer.

A few hours before my Dad slipped into a coma I asked him what he wanted.  He said “I want to love my daughter.  I want to love her with all my heart and soul.”  Those were his last words to me.  You did Bill, you loved me best, and I miss you so much.


  1. I was tearing up as I read this. Thanks so much, Shannon, for sharing your story and informing us about this cancer. There was so much in this article I didn’t know!


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