My name is Jennifer Chikoyak. I have spent the last 18 years working to educate my fellow Alaskans about the health harms related to tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke because of my Grandma Shirley.
My Grandma was the best; she loved to laugh, play games, and spoil her grandchildren. She always stopped whatever she was doing when we visited and hosted the best family gatherings.
In the summer of 1987, I flew from Alaska to Pennsylvania to spend six weeks of my summer break with her. That turnout to be our last summer together. That summer, Grandma developed a persistent cough and had less energy. We spent a lot of time going to doctor appointments and getting X-rays to figure out what was wrong.
By the end of the summer, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She was in the hospital the last time I saw her and passed away just five months later at 63. My Grandma Shirley would be proud of the woman I've become and my work educating others about the health harms of tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure.
We have learned so much about cancer over the last thirty years. Being diagnosed with lung cancer is no longer a death sentence. Instead, cancer survivors have hope thanks to a variety of new treatment options.
Screening for lung cancer with annual low-dose CT scans among those at high risk can reduce the lung cancer death rate by up to 20% by detecting tumors at early stages when they are more likely to be curable.
In Alaska, we are working to educate healthcare providers on referring patients who fall into the high-risk guidelines of 50-80 years old, have a smoking history of smoking a pack-a-day for 20 years, or currently smoke or quit within the last 15 years. Unfortunately, in 2022, only 6% of Alaskans at high risk were screened.
Hope is on the horizon! Beginning in March 2023, Medicaid now covers lung cancer screening! Together we can make a difference. I hope that someday no one will have to lose their Grandma to lung cancer.