Tag Archives: second hand smoke and lung cancer


Yet another guest post from INSPIRE, Nancy also urges others to be their own health care advocates and to not shy away from second opinions:

DSCN0658My name is Nancy. I am 55 years old. I have always lead an active life. And…I still do! I enjoy golfing, reading, reality TV, classic rock, and keeping my pet rats, (I have 6), loving cats, listening to my beautiful red factor canary sing, and working full time as a perioperative assistant for the OR in a busy hospital.

My nightmare began over 6 years ago. I got very sick and ended up in the hospital with pneumonia. I ran a high fever, and was extremely ill. The ER doc told me after a CT scan, that there was a spot on my lung. They did not quite know what it was, so they put me in isolation to rule out TB., which I tested negative for. I was taken out of isolation and before I went home, I asked my family doctor if I should get a lung biopsy, did I have cancer? I was told, no, it was only a pus pocket. I took his word that I was OK, and went back to my life. I forgot about it. Time went by, and I became a pretty healthy woman again.

Then, two summers ago, I became ill with bronchitis. I was treated with numerous antibiotics and it kept coming back. To my shock and horror, a random x-ray found a mass in my right lower lung. I was totally blindsided when I found out the mass was in the exact same area as the spot from 6 years earlier. I was diagnosed with NSCLC adenocarcinoma on September 27, 2011. The same day of my biopsy, I went to the family doctor who misdiagnosed me. He asked me how I was. I told him “not too bad considering I just had a lung biopsy”. Then I let him have it with both barrels…needless to say, he is no longer my doctor!

I had my right lower lobe removed via VATS on October 23, 2011. I am stage 1B. I began 4 rounds of cisplatin-alimta in January, 2012 and finished in March of 2012. I went back to work that April. While I was home during my treatment, I set goals for myself. I was determined to go back to work and not let cancer take over my life. I admit to having scanxiety during scan times…but, I just had my latest scan and I am NED (no evidence of  disease) and have been for 13 months now. Happy dance!

I am a non-smoker. But, I was working in bowling alleys for over 20 years when I was younger and breathed in secondhand cigarette smoke. Did this cause my illness? I think it is a big part of what happened to me, along with the fact that I live in an industrial area, near several auto plants in a suburb of Detroit. Cancer also runs in my family, so it may be genetics.

I take life day by day and know that every day is a gift. I do not really believe that cancer happens for a reason. I feel that part of it is just plain old lousy luck. But I can say, I have begun some wonderful friendships since I was diagnosed. I have done things I would have never thought I would have done including learning to draw blood and also changing jobs completely. No one in my new department knows that I have lung cancer. I am keeping a huge secret, but I am also giving myself a chance to be just one of them and to just be ME. No one to feel sorry for me, no one to look at me and think she has IT. I say never ever give up, fight with everything you have…Be strong, stay busy and focus on your life.. And, most of all, be your own health advocate. Never, ever blindly trust something a doctor says. Get copies of your records, and get other opinions.


Clearing the air

When I tell people that I have lung cancer, I make no mention of whether or not I smoked.  Most people will ask me anyway.  I view this as an opportunity to educate:  nonsmokers can get lung cancer too.  But what if I had smoked?  Would there be an awkward silence after my affirmative response?  Would the air hum with an unspoken “you got what you deserved?”

This is but one of the reasons why you hear lung cancer referred to as the cancer with a stigma.

When regarding a person who is morbidly obese, it is likely not uncommon to assume that they have failed to regulate self control when it comes to food consumption (whether or not that is actually the case).  But how often does someone actually go up to them and ask, “did you eat too much?”  Such restraint is not observed when talking to those of us with lung cancer.  I feel compassion for everyone who shares my diagnosis, and I certainly don’t believe anyone deserves cancer.

My relationship with cigarettes is complicated.  My mother smoked. Probably while I was in utero, but certainly throughout my childhood.   I never liked it, and when I got to an age where I felt I could take a stand, I did my best to get her to quit.  She finally kicked the habit, but not until I was in my thirties.  Mom never got lung cancer, but I did.

It’s hard.  Hard not to feel sad and a little angry.  A new study indicates that children who grow up in a household with a smoker are twice as likely to get lung cancer; whether or not they ever smoke.  Click here to read the article.

Unfortunately my exposure to second hand smoke didn’t stop there.  From the age of sixteen until I was thirty, I waited tables in a variety of restaurants.  This was in the nineteen seventies and eighties, and anti-smoking laws were in the distant future. After a seven or eight hour long shift, I would come home and immediately shower, in an attempt to wash away the reek of cigarettes.

Yesterday, the Sunday New York Times had an article regarding the poorly enforced ban on smoking indoors.  Evidently in certain New York City clubs, patrons are ignoring the regulations against smoking and the management of these establishments is choosing to look the other way.

The online version of the article allows readers to express their views, and a large number of people joined in, myself included.  Click here to view the article;  and then check out the comments if you are interested.  Mine was the 200th comment and you can find it under HIGHLIGHTS as well.    The viewpoints are, as expected, quite polarized.  A lot of anger, and words such as entitled and selfish thrown around by members of both camps.   The Bill of Rights is rather loosely invoked and references to a “nanny” state are made.  Not a lot of sympathy is shown by either side for the other and some opinions are just downright cruel: “As for smoking generating higher medical costs, I am dubious.  Smokers die early rather than hanging around until they’re ninety…”

Tell you what.  I’m not one to judge as long as personal behavior is harmful to no one else.  But that’s the rub with smoking.  Unless you are really, truly, isolated in locale, your smoke is going to enter someone else’s airspace.

More than twenty years ago I made a sketch for a t-shirt that I wanted to get printed.  I hesitated, afraid that maybe it was offensive.  I no longer feel that way, and in fact one of my New Year’s resolutions is to put it into production and raise some funds for lung cancer research.  The message on the shirt will be this: