Thank you AstraZeneca for sponsoring this post. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Now more than ever, there is reason for hope. Please visit LIVE W.E.L.L. and LVNG With Lung Cancer for more information.
The day my Mom came to tell me and my little sister our Grandma Mary died is emblazoned in my memory forever. I was only 7 years old, but she was one of the most important people in my life. The day she passed was filled with darkness and sadness. Her cause of death? Lung cancer.
Here’s a scary thought: In the United States, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women, accounting for approximately 154,000 deaths each year and about one-quarter of all cancer deaths – more than breast, prostate and colorectal cancers combined. My Grandmother was just 65 years old when she died peacefully in hospice. Too young to have to say goodbye to our big beautiful world.
I’ll never forget seeing her for the last time in the hospital, giving her a hug while she lay in her bed, head wrapped in a silk scarf and looking so frail and small under the covers. I didn’t know she was actually in hospice and had no idea it would be the last time I saw her alive. A beautiful woman with so many talents and such a kind heart was stolen away from our family too soon. For how well I remember my Grandma’s death, I don’t remember her being sick for an entire year. My Mom tells me the doctors found a spot on an X-Ray of her lungs after she hadn’t been feeling well. She also says my Grandma had a bad habit of smoking cigarettes.
Lung cancer stage is determined by tumor size and whether it has spread to nearby areas, lymph nodes, or other organs. Some of these stages have unique names, which can sometimes make understanding the types of lung cancer confusing. There are four main “stages” of NSCLC, defined primarily by the size of the tumor and how far the cancer has spread within or outside of the lungs. There are a lot of misperceptions about lung cancer, particularly in grouping Stage 3 cancer with Stage 4 cancer. Stage 4 NSCLC is called “metastatic” and occurs when the disease has spread to distant parts of the chest or to other organs, such as the brain, bones or liver. Stage 3 is different—it is an earlier stage of disease with better long-term survival rates. Typically, the earlier we treat disease, the better outcomes we have.
Sadly, my Grandma Mary didn’t defeat cancer. The doctors determined she had Stage 4 Lung Cancer and began chemotherapy treatments. At some point, she was told she was going to beat the cancer, but then they determined it spread to her brain. I find it hard to imagine not just how my parents felt, but how she must have felt too. Scared, angry, devastated. In recent years, researchers have come to understand important details of how lung cancer grows and spreads. This has led to important new treatment options that treat cancer differently from conventional therapies, like chemotherapy and radiation. I cannot begin to think what life would be like had she become ill today and not so long ago.
I often think about how my life would be different if my Grandma Mary were still alive. What would my daughters think of her? Would she teach them songs about Mr. Sun and show them where the fairies live in the garden? Her death rocked my world at such a young age and it’s something I really have never gotten over. There are times I fear I won’t always be around for my daughters someday, that I will contract cancer, just as my Grandma did. It’s a scary thought, a tumor growing in my body, and I pray frequently I never find one.
During Lung Cancer Awareness Month this November, please join me in spreading the word. If you know anyone who has been diagnosed with lung cancer, it is critical that they become their own advocate, understand their full diagnosis, and talk to their medical team about what treatment options are right for them. Now more than ever, there is reason for hope. Please visit LIVE W.E.L.L. (https://clvr.li/livewells3) and LVNG With Lung Cancer (https://clvr.li/lvngwlc) for more information.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.
Caitlin Houston is a Connecticut based life and style blogger.