Slideshow: Faces of lung cancer

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Samantha Mixon
Tori Tomalia
Dan Kitts
Kim Wieneke
Randy Broad
Liz Dois
Emily Bennett Taylor
Jean Cox
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‘People think I deserve it’

“Most of the time when I tell someone I have stage 4 lung cancer, they ask if I smoked,” said Samantha Mixon, 35. “Even if I did, it wouldn’t matter. Anyone can get it. It’s like people feel I did this to myself even though I’m not a smoker. That I deserve it somehow.”

Mixon, who carries an EGFR genetic mutation, has undergone radiation to her right lung as well as a craniotomy and gamma knife radiation for her metastasized disease.

Courtesy Samantha Mixon

‘My diagnosis was delayed’

Tori Tomalie, 38, was diagnosed with lung cancer after months of dealing with what doctors thought was asthma. The mother of three from Ann Arbor, Michigan, has gone through chemo and is currently taking a targeted medication for her stage 4 lung cancer.

“My months of having ‘asthma’ may have something to do with doctors assuming that young, nonsmokers don’t get lung cancer,” she said. “And there is a terrible funding discrepancy which is almost certainly due to the stigma.”

Courtesy Tori Tomalia

‘His shame silenced him’

Dan Kitts, who died at age 71 in 2013, started smoking long before cigarettes were linked to lung cancer. Diagnosed 11 years after he kicked the habit, he still blamed himself.

“Dan often said, ‘I did this to myself,’” said Andrea Borondy Kitts, who now advocates for lung cancer patients. “His feelings of guilt and shame even silenced his ability to complain during the difficult 18 months from diagnosis to his death. The effects of stigma can be overt or subtle. In all cases, it hurts.”

Courtesy of Andrea Borondy Kitts

‘Awareness comes after diagnosis’

Lung cancer awareness and knowledge usually comes after diagnosis, said Kim Wieneke, who was diagnosed in 2011 at the age of 34.

“The truth is, the lung cancer stigma was developed by all the anti-smoking campaigns,” she said. “Even I was fooled by all the ads. But what the ads never showed was the Venn diagram: one circle ‘lung cancer’ and the other ‘smoking’. The circles only partially overlap.”

Courtesy Kim Wieneke

‘If you have lungs, you can get lung cancer’

“It’s so bizarre. Everybody wants to know how you got a disease,” said Randall Broad, 59. “Most of the stupid questions are fear-based. People want to know that they’re safe. I quickly learned that if you have lungs, you can get lung cancer.”

A never-smoker who was diagnosed in 2008, Broad is currently NED after undergoing surgery, chemo and radiation. Everyone, he said, has asked the “Did you smoke?” question, including health care professionals.

Courtesy Randy Broad

‘I was always an athlete’

Diagnosed at 26, Liz Dols said her doctors have no idea why she has lung cancer and she doesn't want to spend her precious time worrying about it. 

"I have always looked at the situation from the viewpoint of 'we can't pin this on one thing,'" she said, "so I'm going to save my time and energy working to stay healthy, enjoying my family and friends, spending time doing the things I love to do." Now 34, Dols has remained athletic even through eight years of nearly continuous treatment. She is currently enrolled in a clinical trial.

Courtesy Liz Dois

‘My lung cancer has to do with radon’

“I am fairly certain my lung cancer had something to do with my exposure to radon,” said Emily Bennett Taylor, who was diagnosed in June 2012 at the age of 28. According to the EPA, Latah, Idaho, where Taylor grew up, has a red radon level (the highest).

“Lung cancer funding – and research – is woefully behind other cancers,” she said. “If you don’t have funding, you don’t get research, you don’t find better treatments, and you don’t have cures.”

Read more of her story here.

Courtesy Emily Bennett Taylor

‘Half the people diagnosed die in the first year’

“Half of the people diagnosed with lung cancer die in the first year,” said Jean Cox, who learned two years ago that she had non-small cell adenocarcinoma. “I was really lucky and continue to be really lucky.”

Cox, a never smoker, has an EGFR gene mutation, one of a handful that can trigger the disease. “I felt very isolated after my diagnosis,” said the 65-year-old, who, after surgery to remove part of her left lung, began advocating for more research. “I’ve only met one other lung cancer survivor.”

Fred Hutch News Service