Lung CancerIssue Introductions

Looking at Lung Cancer without Stigma

In her introduction to this special issue on Lung Cancer, Lillie emphasizes that we need to inspire and help people to stop smoking, and get rid of the overall stigma surrounding this disease.
November 2021 – Lung Cancer
Lillie D. Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, HON-ONN-CG
University Distinguished Service Professor of Breast Cancer,
Professor of Surgery, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Co-Developer of Work Stride—Managing Cancer at Work
Johns Hopkins Healthcare Solutions

Lung cancer. Just to hear those words stirs up images of coughing, smoking, dying. And the stigma about a lung cancer diagnosis still exists. It’s time we changed these images and eliminate this stigma from the world.

This special issue of CONQUER magazine focuses on lung cancer. It will empower you with facts and undo some of the myths about lung cancer, and inform you about what it means to be a patient with lung cancer, a patient advocate, new developments in clinical trials, and what new therapies are available.

Not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer, and not everyone who gets lung cancer was a smoker. We are now able to screen for lung cancer and find it very early, when it is tiny, and get rid of it before it can create real havoc for the patient and the patient’s family. This screening is called “lung nodule screening”; however, it is underutilized, because those who can benefit from this test often feel they will be talked down to when they come in, or when they call to schedule the test. And this simple test doesn’t involve any needles and has proved to save lives.

We need to stop this kind of stigma. Telling people they are at higher risk for lung cancer is something they already know. Inspiring people to stop smoking, and giving them the tools and resources to do so, is what we need. Let’s stop ridiculing people and inspire them instead.

A few years ago, I got a friend to stop smoking, so he could enjoy holding his soon-to-be-born grandson. And I had him put his cigarette money into a jar every week; at the end of a year he had several thousand dollars saved up, which he used to start a college fund for his newborn grandson. What a wonderful happy ending!

Nearly 42 years ago, just 3 weeks after I gave birth to our daughter, I was able to get my own husband to stop smoking, but it’s a secret how I did it! No nudging. No fussing. I used a totally different approach (and no, sex wasn’t involved!). It sure felt good seeing him tobacco-free, though, and knowing that our daughter would have healthy lungs in our home.

Lung cancer used to be virtually a death sentence. If you were told you had it, you were also told to start planning for the end of life. Today, with earlier detection, and targeted therapies and immunotherapies, as well as new treatments on the horizon, lung cancer doesn’t have to be the end. It can be a new beginning.

We need to get very involved with our children or grandchildren who are tweens and teens, so they learn about the risks of smoking and/or vaping. Heading this behavior off at the start is the best prevention. Some respond well to fear, others to logic, others to money.

I hope you find the articles in this special issue educational, surprising, and uplifting. And if you want to help people to stop smoking or vaping, buy a big jar for Christmas and put a label on it that will inspire them. Children’s College Fund. Annual Vacation Cruise. Rolex Watch. Wedding. Honeymoon. Anniversary Party. Whatever will motivate them to get healthier.

So keep yourself healthy, enjoy the coming holidays (and do so safely), and look to the new year as an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others, especially those diagnosed with lung cancer. They need our support. I am ready to give my support. I hope you will join me.

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Last modified: March 10, 2022

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