From Tragic to Hopeful

As the leading cause of cancer death for Canadian men and women, lung cancer has a poor image. It needs reframing. I’m willing to be one of its poster children because I want to change how we think about lung cancer.

It didn’t take long for me to understand that my stigmatized view of lung cancer, and our collective perception, negatively affect the support, attention, and funding lung cancer receives. When initially diagnosed, everyone asked directly or indirectly if I smoked. I was relieved to say “Never” with the implicit message I wasn’t the cause of my disease.

Now, approaching my third anniversary since diagnosis, I understand lung cancer is a complex, heterogeneous disease affecting men and women, smokers and never-smokers. Sure, smoking is a significant risk factor contributing to about 50% of lung cancer diagnoses. Other risk factors include radon, asbestos, air pollution, and family history.

Cancer mainly affects Canadians 50 years and older but can occur at any age. Two in five Canadians are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. According to the Canadian Cancer Society 2021 Statistics, there are reasons for hope. Cancer incidence for men and women has declined annually since 2011, and mortality is decreasing, meaning an increased survival rate. Despite this, lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women, accounting for 25% of cancer deaths. Did you know:

  • In 2021, an equal number (14,800) of Canadian men and women were diagnosed with lung cancer.
  • Lung cancer is far deadlier for women than breast cancer. While the incidence of breast cancer is higher, lung cancer deaths in women are approximately double.
  • The five-year mortality rate for women with lung cancer is 89% compared to 26% for breast cancer.

When I was first diagnosed and aware of lung cancer’s dismal five-year survival rate, my former colleague Faizan Dhanani shared a hopeful story of long-term survival. While I listened, I wasn’t ready to believe. Today, I’m a believer. Far more cancer patients, particularly those with lung cancer, find their personal stories are changing from tragic to hopeful. The quality of life my targeted therapy provides allows me to advocate for lung cancer. Thanks to the growing menu of treatment options, the availability of Ontario’s high-risk screening for long-time smokers (soon to be available in BC and Quebec), and an increasing awareness among clinicians of the need for early biomarker testing, more lung cancer patients can hope for longer, high-quality lives. I now expect to live longer than what was initially projected, six months to three years.

Please take a moment to read:
– Thankfully for all of us, Guy Lafleur used his fame to raise lung cancer awareness. Read his story and learn to play offensive – Be our most valuable player.

– A former client, Alice Lukacs, now a dear friend, writes about Senior Living, “Great Causes, Great Women.”

– I was honored to be recognized by Sunnybrook Foundation for our successful 2021 fundraising. Read the Foundation’s year-end Community Impact Report.