After talking with Susan Davis, Chief Development Officer of the American Lung Association, I have another thing to be thankful for on Thursday: no one I know has lung cancer. Sadly, I know people that have died from the disease, including a favorite uncle at 49. He didn’t smoke.
You may know someone too. More people will die from lung cancer this year than from the deaths from breast, colon, pancreas, and prostate cancers combined. That’s over 160,000 people.
Still, lung cancer doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Coming off October when everyone knows it’s Pinktober, I bet most people don’t know that November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. I had a simple question for Susan: “Why isn’t November as well known for lung cancer awareness as October is for breast cancer?”
Her answer blew me away.
“Lung cancer kills. Most men and women who are diagnosed with lung cancer don’t live long enough to say they beat the disease,” said Susan.
What Susan said makes sense when you think about it. All those breast cancer walks, runs, and rallies during October include many survivors of the disease. Men and women diagnosed with lung cancer aren’t as fortunate.
“Many men and women are diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer,” Susan explained. “By then it’s too late.”
There are other factors that make lung cancer a difficult sell to donors, many of whom swing between donating to the latest disaster (e.g. Hurricane Sandy) to supporting children’s charities (e.g. St. Jude’s Children Research hospital will raise tens of millions this month with Thanks and Giving).
Some of the myths include:
- Lung cancer is the disease you earn by smoking for decades. False. Of course, that’s not the case for the thousands of non-smokers that are diagnosed with lung cancer every year. “Smoker or not, no one deserves a horrible disease such as cancer,” Susan reminded.
- Lung cancer is an old person’s disease. False. Yes, 81 percent of people with lung cancer are over 60, but if you’re over 40 like I am you probably don’t think of 60 as that old, especially since people are living into their 80’s and 90’s. 65 isn’t old when you could have lived another 20 years.
- Lung cancer is a man’s disease. False. This is totally untrue as it’s an equal opportunity killer. But the perception puts lung cancer on the back burner because men rank low on the emotion meter. As one marketer for Wahl Clipper Co., which is an annual supporter of Movember, the November campaign to fight prostate cancer, explained: “When we looked at money being raised for charity, No. 1 is women’s health issues. No. 2 is children’s health. No. 3 is dogs. And No. 4 is men. So we were trying to get above the dogs.”
Susan Davis has seen all of these myths dispelled again and again, and at close range.
Celeste Better had a successful career with the American Red Cross before moving to the ALA in 2008, first as an assistant to the ALA president and then as a planning and budget manager on Susan’s team. Susan remembers her complaining of a persistent cough she just couldn’t shake.
“I would tell her, ‘You should get that checked out!'” said Susan.
But Susan didn’t expect Celeste, a visibly healthy woman of 43, to be diagnosed with late stage lung cancer.
“Celeste didn’t smoke. She wasn’t over 60. She wasn’t a man,” said Susan. “She was only typical in one way: six months after being diagnosed she was dead.”
Be thankful on Thursday. Be very thankful. Then let’s resolve in the new year to make fighting lung cancer a bigger priority. You can start by showing your support with a simple “Like” on Facebook. Click on the link to see how Mightycause.com is challenging our community to unlock a $10,000 donation to 4 lung cancer organizations.