30 June 2009


Perhaps it’s my inner hypochondriac, or maybe it’s the little voice that sometimes whispers “you should have been a doctor” – in either case, I find myself poking around the health pages of the Times website a lot. Not so long ago, there was a slide show with audio, called “Voices of Lung Cancer”. In the way that one needs to pick at a scab, I clicked through, only to find a woman, one Dr. Woody, with a diagnosis and visage that were eerily similar to my mother’s.

My mother was diagnosed with inoperable stage IV NSCLC in the winter of 2005 - she’d gone to the doctor complaining of back pain, and an x-ray showed lesions on her spine and in both lungs. She had radiation, endured several rounds of chemo, continued to live her life, until a mild seizure in January 2008 indicated brain metastases. She then had whole brain radiation, which debilitated her to such a degree that she could no longer live at home alone. At that point, she entered hospice, at home. She died at the beginning of April, after a YEAR in hospice care, a year of an inexorable decline.

By one measure, Moky did really well - median survival time following a diagnosis at stage IV is about 8 months, and she lived more than four years from that first x-ray. She was basically strong and healthy and tolerated most of the treatment very well.

But I wonder - could something different have been done?

Last week, after the announcement that Steve Jobs had had a liver transplant, there was a flurry of chatter: Should he talk about his treatment? What's the prognosis for pancreatic cancer? Why'd he have a liver transplant anyway?

In my poking-around-the-intertubes-at-lunch surfing, I ended up back at a Times blog post from over a year ago, talking about cancer research funding:

The big loser in the cancer funding race is lung cancer. It is the biggest cancer killer in the country, yet on a per-death basis receives the least N.C.I. funding among major cancers. In 2006, the N.C.I. spent $1,518 for each new case of lung cancer and $1,630 for each lung cancer death, according to data from the institute and the American Cancer Society.

The natural conclusion is that lung cancer suffers in the research dollar pool, because the lung cancer victims brought it upon themselves. They smoked cigarettes, period, end of story. Stigmatized.

But, but, but. Butt. Why'd they smoke cigarettes? Because they were addicted. Why? Because, because, because they couldn't quit.

You know what? The whole thing sucks.

* * * * * * * * *

A couple of weeks ago, and with the help of some of my blog pals, my sister participated in her town's Relay for Life - and raised about $3500 for the American Cancer Society. Thank you. I hope it helps kick cancer's ass.


Beck said...

My very young uncle died of lung cancer on his 41st birthday - it horrifies me to hear of how little research there is being done for such a terrible disease.

Cold Spaghetti said...

Awesome post.

And great to point out that funding, whether for science or programming or services or whatever, is completely and totally tied -- not to science -- but to folk notions and cultural imperatives.

flutter said...

Cancer just sucks.

shrink on the couch said...

My teen son participated in relay for life at his school. This was his second year. Combined he raised just under $1000. Rah!

Unknown said...

Oh it's infuriating where the money to fund programs goes! Well, every post and penny counts...

Kyla said...

Lung cancer does get the short end of the stick, both in research dollars and in overall sympathy for the patients. "Oh, lung cancer. I guess he/she shouldn't have smoked." It is a common attitude.

Not all patients with lung cancer are/were smokers, and regardless of whether they were or weren't, they are still human beings with a grim diagnosis. They are not less worthy of research, treatment, or sympathy.

S said...

Yes, it does. The whole thing sucks.

meno said...

Aren't we the hypocrites with our thinking that it's your fault if you get lung cancer? And if it's your fault, we don't have to help you.

People are weird.

mayberry said...

Got your card -- it was the least I could do. My husband lost both his father and grandfather to lung cancer when he was only a baby.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

The thing is that many people who don't smoke get lung cancer. I believe lung cancer is the number 1 cancer killer.

I am not a worrier, but with my mother and sister dying from lung cancer and the fact that I was exposed to so much second-hand smoke when I was growing up, I do worry. A lot.

Mental P Mama said...

Cancer sucks.

RuthWells said...

It does suck. And your sister rocks.

It's very interesting to me to compare public funding for various diseases by number of patients affected. (The quote you posted is on a per-death basis, which is something I haven't seen before.) My family is affected by polycystic kidney disease, which currently receives $60 per patient in public funding, which is laughable. For comparison's sake, Huntington's disease receives $2,120 per patient in public funding.

I'm sure that there is some stigma affecting the level of funding for lung cancer v. other cancers, but I have to wonder what funding would be like if there were a strong lobbying presence for lung cancer, as there is for breast cancer. Would that make a difference, do you think?

abby said...

I'm glad I quit smoking. I hope it helps. though, that may not be what gets me anyway.

did you hear about this cool new therapy?
it's still in research phases, with human trials not set to begin yet. what's so exciting, though, is the therapy is not cancer type-specific, just targets cancer cells in general. this could be really cool.

and if you can't view the article, I'll have it on my blog (I have a subscription to view so I don't know if the link will work for you).

and that rocks that your sister received so much support. people are awesome.

abby said...

sorry. this is totally where I first heard about the new therapy and it's accessible and easy to read:


The Library Lady said...

I read about the treatment. It sounds hopeful--though they also pointed out that a lot of the treatments that have worked in mice don't seem to work the same way in humans.

A lot of lung cancer victims didn't smoke.Ever. Our Nanay was one of them and it took her within weeks after the diagnosis.

But no matter what someone did or didn't do--their loved ones loss is just as devastating.

Go Sarah!

Life As I Know It said...

A friend's mother was diagnosed with lung cancer last year and never smoked a day in her life. There are LOTS of causes of lung cancer and smoking is just one of them. The environment is full of toxins. Whatever the cause it really shouldn't make a difference in wanting to save lives.
But back to your original point - cancer totally sucks.

Woman in a Window said...

My father-in-law died a couple years ago from lung, brain et all cancer. It was fast and ugly. I do wonder how much longer he might have lived had he not gotten treatment. As it was he only survived two months of treatment. And yes he smoked. And yes it still hurt to lose him as much.

Gwen said...

This is sort of a comment for both your cancer posts. I hope that's ok. Cancer sucks. It killed my sister at 34. I worry about cancer because I have the Breast Cancer gene mutation BRCA2. I had my breasts removed so that they wouldn't kill me. Isn't it lovely the things we have to do?

I'm sorry about your cancer "scare", if you are calling it that. I've never had a colonoscopy but my mom has had a bunch. I've had to do that kind of cleansing prep for other tests and it was just awful.

Thanks for sharing this private issue. It's not that I want other people to know how I feel having to fear cancer every day of my life. But it helps to know that I'm not alone in my fears at the same time. We're so young to worry about this stuff.

Aunt Becky said...

The minute you bring up lung cancer, you're right, people are all "Dude you BROUGHT IT UPON YOURSELF" even if you've never touched a cigarette. It's so, so crappy.