In November, during Lung Cancer Awareness Month, I shared the American Lung Association's commitment to extending the lung cancer conversation beyond one month to a yearlong dialogue on lung cancer issues. We are working to address the need for increased research funding - and greater education and awareness about lung cancer and the facts that anyone can get lung cancer and close to 160,000 Americans will die this year because of the disease.
Today, I want to share the story of Janet Freeman-Daily from Seattle, Washington. She is a stage 4 lung cancer survivor and advocate in the fight against lung cancer. Prior to her diagnosis, Janet had no family history of the disease and led an active and healthy lifestyle. Her story is one of perseverance and finding a new path after her diagnosis with this life-changing disease.
Harold Wimmer (HW): How did you find out you had lung cancer?
Janet Freeman-Daily (JFD): In early 2011, prior to a family trip to China, I went to see my doctor for a nagging cough I'd had for a few months. I was in good physical shape and exercised regularly. He prescribed antibiotics. A few weeks later when we returned from our trip to China, we all had respiratory infections. My husband and son recovered in a week's time, but my cough persisted. I went back to the doctor, who gave me more antibiotics. After a few more weeks with no relief, the doctor ordered a chest x-ray, then a CT scan. Ten minutes later, I arrived home from the clinic to receive a call from my doctor telling me I had a suspected carcinoma in my lung. Two days later, I saw a pulmonologist who performed a diagnostic bronchoscopy.
On May 10, 2011, a Tuesday evening, the pulmonologist called me with the news: I had lung cancer.
HW: What did you think when you got the diagnosis?
JFD: I was home alone and my first inclination was to call my sister, with whom I'm very close. To be honest, I was numb to it for some time. I didn't know what to think or expect. I didn't know anything about lung cancer. I had never smoked, never lived with smokers, never worked in a smoking environment. I was one of those people who thought that since I lived a healthy lifestyle and wasn't a smoker I didn't need to worry about lung cancer. I slowly came to terms with what a lung cancer diagnosis meant. The five-year survival rate for lung cancer is only about 16 percent - among the lowest of all types of cancer--and has changed little in the past 40 years.
HW: What's your prognosis these days?
JFD: After two different chemos, two radiation protocols, and two separate recurrences within 18 months, I rely on clinical trial drugs to keep me alive. Right now, I'm considered NED ("No Evidence of Disease" status) and have been so for a little over a year. Current technology can't detect any cancer in my body, although microscopic cancer cells are likely still present. My lung cancer will probably come back.
HW: What message do you want people to take away from your story?
JFD: There are a few things I hope people will learn from my experience. We need to let go of this idea that only smokers can get lung cancer. The fact is anyone who has lungs can get lung cancer. I want people to understand the statistics: more than two-thirds of people diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked or are former smokers, and lung cancer is the number one cancer killer. People need to care about lung cancer so we can work toward finding better early detection methods and treatments. I need the women and men of this country to stand up and join me in the fight against lung cancer.
Janet Freeman-Daily has been NED status for the past year and continues to spread the word about lung cancer through her personal blog.
To get involved and support the fight against lung cancer, participate in a Lung Association walk near you.