I find it weird how few details I remember from what was such a momentous day in my life.
It was a Thursday in December in Ottawa. So, I imagine that it was probably cold and pretty bleak. There must have been lots of people heading to work, and many others on their way to confront mall crowds to pick up the latest hot toy or special gift to put under the Christmas tree.
I had probably woken up at the usual time, helped my sons get off to school and my daughter, who was in Grade 1, to her bus stop.
But the truth is that I don’t really remember.
It was just another routine day — until it wasn’t.
Until it became my personal nightmare.
And my family’s nightmare.
And the day that changed my life.
It was the day that I met with doctors to get the results from a bunch of tests that followed my complaint about a cough that wouldn’t go away.
At least I thought it was a cough. And wished that it had been a cough.
Instead, it was lung cancer.
Many people who get horrible news like that say that they remember so many unusual and often irrelevant details, similar to the war vet or the witness to history: the odd pattern on the doctor’s tie or maybe the light bulb in the waiting room that needed to be changed.
Not me. I remember pretty well nothing. I don’t remember what I was wearing or the weather or anything about what I ate.
About the only thing that I remember was the part where my doctor uttered the bottom line: “Jill, you’ve got lung cancer. We cannot cure you.”
There were lots of other words, I’m sure. Stuff details about my diagnosis and the lack of options and the horrific prognosis.
But after hearing the bottom line, the rest of it didn’t seem to matter much. Maybe that’s why I remember almost none of it. After hearing those words, my world just went into a dizzying blur. It was like I had entered some alternate universe that had completely different physical properties to the one that I was used to.
Maybe I had been dropped into an episode of the Twilight Zone.
It must have been something weird like that because the doctors said “lung cancer” and I remember thinking that that made no sense.
That’s a smokers’ disease and I’ve never smoked.
That’s a type of cancer that I associated with older men. And i’m a mom with three young kids.
Like most Canadians, I didn’t know very much about lung cancer.
That’s no longer true.
Yes, it’s true that many lung cancers are caused by smoking. But we could remove all of the lung cancer deaths in Canada that strike smokers or former smokers and lung cancer would still kill just as many people each year as breast cancer. To say that another way: As many non-smokers die of lung cancer as women die of breast cancer.
Lung cancer is also the leading cause of cancer deaths world-wide and is responsible for about 30 per cent of all cancer deaths in Canada. That’s even more than the deaths caused by the next three biggest cancer killers combined.
I don’t want to diminish breast cancer or any other type of cancer, or those smokers who contracted lung cancer. All cancers are horrible and all cancer victims have friends and loved ones and lives that they want to continue.
I want to point out what to me is painfully obvious and a gross injustice. This hellish disease that attacked my body and has placed me and my family under extreme stress for more than four years has a problem. Or, at least the battle against the disease has a problem.
It’s a PR problem.
People don’t seem to have as much sympathy for its victims as they do for other cancer victims, even though one in 12 Canadians will at some point in their lives get lung cancer.
One in 12!
Yet, despite that staggering number and the fact that lung cancer is responsible for about 30 per cent of all the cancer deaths, this disease gets about 7 per cent of cancer funding.
How does that make sense?
And that’s not just the opinion of a lung cancer victim. According to the experts at McGill’s Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Research Centre (GCRC), there are two factors behind the lack of research: first, the stigma around lung cancer. As I mentioned, this disease has a PR problem.
And two, the grim survival rates. Only 17 per cent of lung cancer victims are alive five years after being diagnosed. It’s the deadliest form of cancer, which, in a very odd way, contributes to the PR problem because it means that there isn’t a very big pool of advocates to speak out about the need for more research.
I’m doing everything I can to remain one of those advocates – and a wife, friend and mother — for as long as possible.
I’m well aware that the fight against this disease needs people like me. I’m also very aware that I’m only here today because of new forms of treatment, which comes from research, which comes from generous donations.
Seventeen months after my diagnosis, I was weakening, running out of treatment options. Honestly, I thought my lung cancer was getting the best of me.
But a clinical trial at the Ottawa Hospital gave me a shred of hope and a life line. It extended my life by about two years. During that time, new treatments became available. That meant another life line and another one after that.
It’s now been more than four years since my diagnosis. I’m still here. I’m still a wife and a mom and a person who loves music and my friends and who gets lots of joy from my life.
That’s all thanks to God and to research and to generous donors.
I thank all donors from the bottom of my heart for that and ask that we each do whatever we can to beat this horrible disease. We need another life line. I need it and so do countless others.
Cancer affects all of us and we can and must win this battle.
I’m betting my life on it.
It’s easy to help save a life. You can fund lung cancer clinical trials by designating “Lung Cancer” on the drop down menu (pictured above with the blue highlight). Please give generously at the link below, or to other specific lung cancer research charities. (I provided two others in my previous post.)
Donations made to this designation will go to Lung Cancer clinical trials. Thank you to the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation for honouring my request for that designation. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, but you can give every month of the year!