November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month: Demystifying Lung Cancer

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month: Do you know what lung cancer patients go through?

 Breast, skin, prostate, colon, cervical or lung cancer will give anyone the chills. The story is usually the same; a positive diagnosis of any cancer is followed by a long tiresome, and financially draining treatment journey, which at times turns tragic. Patients also deal with a range of emotional and psychological issues; fear of an untimely death; asking oneself “Why me?”; fear of being reprimanded (especially lung cancer victims); or worries about permanently altered bodies. 

Did You Smoke?

 It is estimated that only 20 percent of Lung cancer patients survive five years after their diagnosis. This partly explains why lung cancer patients experience high levels of cancer-associated depression. But this isn’t the sole reason. The question; “Did you smoke?” makes lung cancer a particularly distressing experience. 

This small question sums up the belief most people have; that people with lung cancer brought it upon themselves. But is this true? Well, No! A case study of a girl I encountered who had lung cancer. She’d never smoked a cigarette her entire life but was still diagnosed with cancer. She knew telling people about her condition would only result in criticism. So when someone asked, she’d say she had bone cancer. 

Lung Cancer Patients Are Stigmatized 

Studies conducted reveal that people associate lung cancer with smoking, and thus show less pity to patients battling the disease. This, in turn, makes it harder for cancer patients to reach out for emotional, or financial support to help pay for treatment. Studies suggest that this stigma makes patients ignore early symptoms, thus delaying treatment. And if they manage to get treatment, they become socially isolated, and this undermines their chances for the much-needed support during recovery.  

Hospitals should be their safe space, or so we think. Lung cancer patients are subjected to poorer quality of care by health professionals during treatment. The patient realizes this, and they start blaming themselves for the lack of sympathy they receive. And it’s not only the patients, but professionals in the medical field also stigmatize even the clinicians who specialize in lung cancer. 

Where Did This Stigma Originate From?

Before the mid-20th Century, smoking was portrayed as fresh, sexy and modern. Some doctors even plugged it as a healthy way of relaxing. Fast forward to when its effects became known, and the anti-smoking campaigns were kicked into high gear. The adverts, now aimed at getting people to quit the addictive substance, portrayed smoking and smokers as disgusting and dirty. Though the effects of these campaigns have been reduced smoking among the general population, it has also proved detrimental to lung cancer patients. 

Now people view those with lung cancer as architects of their misfortunes who don’t deserve sympathy. There is a reluctance when it comes to investing in early detection and better treatment of lung cancer. Research into lung cancer is highly underfunded compared to other types of cancers. Why? Because of the stigma associated with lung cancer.

What should you take from this? Patient experience and the judgment they are subjected to make lung cancer patients sadder and sicker. Do you know what heals them? Kindness and sympathy. So, this November don’t ask, “Did you smoke?,” instead tell them “I’m sorry you’re going through this, you’ll make it through.”





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