Glenna M

Glenna M., OR

I am going to be totally honest in sharing my story. There are four siblings in our family and three of us have had lung cancer. 

We grew up at a time when television was still new and we were transfixed to the screen on that little box every day after school, watching such shows as the Mickey Mouse Club or American Bandstand. The sponsors of these programs were tobacco companies and smoking was portrayed to be very “cool and hip”. Our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, politicians, actors, tv stars, all smoked. Magazine ads, billboards, tv commercials (remember that handsome Marlboro man?), all led us to believe that smoking was perfectly normal and the thing to do. This was before the Surgeon General declared tobacco to be unsafe and deadly and a campaign to end smoking began in earnest. The number of smokers in this country began to decline but the campaign itself to end smoking created an ugly stigma. We were young and influenced by the marketing of the tobacco companies; we became smokers - lured to the habit by the appeal of smoking in ads.

I am the oldest in my family and a two-time survivor of lung cancer. I benefited from having good health insurance at the time of my diagnosis and receiving the newest and most effective procedures to treat my disease.  But the story I want to share with you is not about me.  It’s about my beautiful younger sister, Paula, who lost her life to small cell lung cancer.  She was very caring and nurturing and chose a life of social work as her given career.  She had a Masters in Social Work and was the first person law enforcement called on in the middle of the night when responding to a domestic situation with young children present.  Paula carried a big box of teddy bears in the trunk of her car to hand out to these frightened children as a way to try and help them feel safe. She was also an accomplished quilter and made some beautiful pieces of art that are hung in various Ronald McDonald houses throughout Minnesota.  She was a mother, daughter, sister, friend and was dearly loved by one and all that knew her.

At the time of Paula’s diagnosis, funding for lung cancer was dismally low, due in large part to the stigma. The perception was if you smoked and got lung cancer, you brought it on yourself. It wouldn’t have happened if you had just stayed away from cigarettes. Lung cancer victims were also regarded as lazy and uneducated. On the flip side, a lung cancer diagnosis for current and former smokers quite often carries a hefty dose of guilt and shame, and at times the patient will withhold sharing their diagnosis with friends or loved ones.  And yes, my siblings and I were former smokers at the time of our diagnosis but no one deserves to get lung cancer because of it.

For decades this unfortunate stigma has not only had an emotional toll on lung cancer patients, but it has been the biggest obstacle in gaining funds for research for new treatments or any measurable survival because of it.  In fact, up until the past few years, funding by the NIH for lung cancer research had lagged way behind funding for other cancers, even though to this day it still remains the deadliest form of cancer world-wide. 

Fortunately,  things have changed and since 2014, there has been a 115% increase in lung cancer research funding just from the NIH. This funding and research have  resulted in more options for treatment,  including targeted and immunotherapies.  These treatments are prolonging lives and resulting in more survivors of this deadly disease. We are headed in the right direction but we still have a long way to go. The survivor rate for lung cancer in American is just 4% of all cancer survivors. That is why continued funding for research is so very important.

I am fortunate to be a part of that 4% - my diagnosis came early and when we were at a cross roads in the fight against lung cancer.

We are headed in the right direction – let’s keep the momentum going!

Updated March 2022

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