Editor's note: November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, but sadly, many people are still not aware that anyone with lungs can be diagnosed with lung cancer, whether they smoked or not. We're bringing back this piece from May 2015 about the stigma associated with the disease. Please share with your community.
When Sherry Stoll* was diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2011, her community rallied around her. Friends, family and even strangers sent fruit baskets, handmade blankets, get-well cards and restaurant gift cards so she wouldn’t have to worry about cooking meals while going through chemo and radiation.
It was an interesting experience for the 53-year-old from Pittsburgh, especially since it wasn’t her first bout with cancer. A year and a half earlier, she was diagnosed with lung cancer.
The response from her community then? Crickets.
“There was definitely a lack of support and sympathy,” said Stoll, a stay-at-home mom who now runs the nonprofit lung cancer advocacy group, We Wish. “My family was there for me, but most people when they heard about it, were like, ‘Wow, that’s really a shame. Did you smoke?’”
Most people know that lung cancer is an aggressive killer, caused by a number of factors including smoking, genetic mutations and environmental exposures to carcinogens like radon and asbestos. But more and more patients, doctors and researchers are pointing to another harmful influence contributing to the suffering, delayed diagnosis and possibly even early deaths of those hit with the disease: stigma.