It felt like a punch to the gut but at the same time it felt surreal. I was one of those people who always had empathy when I heard someone's cancer diagnosis but I could never prepare myself for how I would feel after my dad was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Lung cancer - it was the one cancer that was never "on my radar." I never contemplated that would be the disease that would kill my dad. And not only was the diagnosis a shock, the ferocity with which this awful disease took my father away from me and my family was even more shocking.
My dad was not a smoker. I always feel compelled to say this when people ask about my dad's illness. He was a healthy guy who loved his family deeply, as we loved him and always will. He was the best man I will ever know. Deeply devoted to his family. Being around his wife, three daughters and grandson was what always made him happiest. He was a well-respected dentist who proudly served the troops at Fort Hood. I remember him coming home with stories of the patients he had met. He was so loved that they have a plaque in his honor at the dental clinic at Fort Hood. It warms my heart to know that my dad was so loved but saddens me that he is not still here to share his warm smile and warm heart.
He did not show any symptoms until one day he woke up with back pain and a pain in his ribs. A chest x-ray showed a mass in his lung, and later a CT scan would show that indeed it was cancer that had spread throughout his body to his liver and his bones. Two questions immediately came to mind through my screaming tears: how and why? How did we not know that this disease was living inside my dad? My dad who was always caring, joking, loving and loyal. And why? That's all, just why? Those are questions that have no answer, I now realize, and yet they linger.
After obsessively Googling lung cancer and lung cancer survival rates, I realize now that lung cancer is obscenely underfunded in comparison to other forms of cancer. Yet it kills more people each year than both breast and prostate cancer combined, and is the #1 killer in the U.S. after heart disease. In fact, one in fourteen people will be diagnosed with lung cancer, and 60% of those people are former smokers or light smokers and 20% are non-smokers. I compared the statistics to those that just four years earlier I had researched when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. What a huge difference in both survival rates and treatment. My mother is a breast cancer survivor thanks to the attention, research and funding that breast cancer has received over the years. I wish the same could be said for lung cancer!
There is a stigma that is attached to lung cancer that prevents this horrendous disease from getting the attention and funding it deserves. My dad was NOT a smoker! Again, I say this. But even those who are smokers do NOT deserve this disease. Lung cancer took a piece of my heart, a piece of my soul when it took my father. My two sisters and my mom will never truly be the same. We never contemplated that something so aggressive, so evil was lingering inside such a loving, honest, amazing man. Lung cancer forever changed our lives in 8 short weeks. My goal is to spread awareness of this disease so that others can understand how quickly and unexpectedly it could change their life and to finally give lung cancer the attention it deserves. Because the bottom line is this: If you have lungs, you can get lung cancer.