Cancer awareness and support has grown substantially but there are still some cancers people seem to avoid talking about, or even tend to stigmatize. Blaming the patient diverts energy and attention from where it belongs — on doing all we can to make a difference in the lives of those battling cancer (whatever type).
Dr. Jonathan Bricker said, “Nicotine is more addictive than alcohol and as difficult to stop as heroin.” When the compulsion leads to lung cancer the patient is often blamed; You made poor choices in your life. What’s your first thought in hearing of someone diagnosed with lung, esophagus, throat or tongue cancer? Admittedly, I have asked the question too. Does she smoke? The thinking goes like this … if we can find the “culprit” we can influence survival, right?
Most people don’t realize that worldwide, 25 percent of lung cancer patients never smoked. Similarly, women diagnosed with cervical cancer have faced “a significant cancer type-by-cause interaction” according to The Blame Game research project conducted by Florida State University.
Celebrities like Celine Deon help to evoke empathy and erase stigma in sharing their personal stories. The pop singer’s older brother died of cancer that had invaded his throat, tongue and brain, just days after her husband Rene Angelil succumbed to a long battle with throat cancer.
The spotlight on survivors is another powerful way to alter the perception and experience of cancer. Last October, the Today Show sat down with Hoda Kotb and Joan Lunden to discuss the risk factors and recovery process in breast cancer. Each year, more than 230,000 individuals will hear the words “you have breast cancer” – men as well as women (go here for my dedication to U.S. Marine Peter Devereaux). Dr. Freya Schnabel of NYU’s Pelmutter Cancer Center pointed to a simple (yet crucial) fact for anyone battling cancer in saying, “those who are well supported and embedded in great networks of support get through the treatments better.”
There is no doubt that knowing and avoiding risk factors can help us negate a cancer diagnosis. According to Women’s Health not using tobacco, being active, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods are all things that lower our lifetime risk of cancer.
Still with every prevention strategy in place, cancer continues to abruptly invade the lives of our loved ones. That’s the case for a local family here on the Emerald Coast of Florida. Never smoked … healthy lifestyle … and here comes squamous cell carcinoma invading the deeper layers of her mouth resulting in a fight-for-your-life battle with tongue and throat cancer.
Daniel Austin had helped us deliver Christmas stockings (and sing!) to cancer patients among Team Martina teammates over the past five years. Together, we had experienced the joy of watching faces light up, simply in being there to love them through it. Music can heal the heart, along with people coming together when the battle is bigger than you can handle alone (which it always is). For Daniel, it wasn’t enough to help his mother. He formed the non-profit Emerald Coast Health Organization to help people live better, even in the midst of cancer. “Bowling 2 Benefit” will be the first of many events to promote networking among cancer treatment professionals, and magnify support for families. We will be there. If you’re in the neighborhood, we hope you will come too. Learn more … refuse to let cancer have the last word.
Stop saying “I wish” start saying “I will.”