There is a very real stigma surrounding lung cancer. Many people believe that the only way you can get lung cancer is through smoking–this is incorrect. Although smoking tobacco is by far the leading cause of lung cancer, it can also be due to genetics, exposure to radon, secondhand smoke, air pollution and other factors. The truth is, anyone with lungs can get lung cancer.
This stigma affects people living with lung cancer and lung cancer survivors in many ways. One of our community members shared, “Everyone asks what kind of cancer I had. When I say lung, the first question is always did you smoke?” This type of comment is hurtful and something many of our community members have experienced, most more than once. Here some of our members share anonymously how they have dealt with this stigma.
Not even smokers deserve cancer
“When people ask if I was a former smoker I say, ‘Yes, and I wish I never picked up a cigarette,’ but no one deserves cancer. Anyone that has lungs can get cancer.”
“I reply if you have lungs you can get lung cancer. I felt so guilty that I smoked which was a vice that caused my actions to cause heartache to my family.”
“When I share that I have cancer, people always ask what kind. When I say lung cancer. They ask if I was smoker. I smoked when I was a teenager, but not for 50 years.”
Having a strong support system helps
“You just set your mind to becoming cancer free, then tolerate and endure with a great spouse!”
“Surrounding myself with loved ones and family has helped a lot. I am 66 and think often of others with this horrible disease and pray for them!”
“I don’t really pay attention to anything but my doctor and the way I feel. I just put one foot in front of the other and keep going. I surround myself with people I love and I pray to God! I don’t have time for doubt or negative thoughts!”
Taking each comment as a teaching moment
“It has been frustrating for sure but I try to make it a teaching moment since I was diagnosed with lung cancer but was never a smoker.”
“I have become a lung cancer advocate to help inform people that anyone get get lung cancer.”
“I often feel as if I must defend myself as I am a non-smoker. I have learned to deal with this by educating others!”
“It is difficult but I try to remember I too thought you only got lung cancer if you smoked before I got it.”
“People know I have never smoked. The lung cancer I have is what non-smokers get. How I got it is a mystery. I ate healthy and live in the country. Our home was checked for radon. It was within limits.”