Breast cancer. Prostate cancer. Brain cancer. Many types of cancer get a lot of attention and researchers are encouraged to find a cure - but what about lung cancer?
Lung cancer often gets a bad rap, especially if the person with this type of cancer smokes. Some people feel so strongly against smoking that they'll go as far as to say the person with lung cancer deserves it. Well, to those people, I would like to say: Tell that to my dead Nana, and my two dying great-aunts. I love them dearly, and even though they might not have been perfect, they don't deserve this.
In the first half of the 20th century, smoking was considered a perfectly normal aspect of adult life. The dangers of smoking were not widely known at the time, and everyone who was anyone had a cigarette in his or her hand.
By the time my Nana and aunts found out the harmful effects, it was too late. Addiction took over.
I saw my Nana every day until I was 12 years old. When I was young, we used to take naps, and I would fall asleep to QVC on the TV and her praying the rosary. She used to make me Ramen noodles and I would sit and watch Sesame Street in her living room. We would go to 4 p.m. Mass every week, sit second row to the front on the right side, and I would eat orange cough drops and walk on the kneeler when I was bored. She would take me to one of my aunts' houses every Friday, where at least three of her five sisters would be: Aunt Bea, Aunt Josie and Aunt Dorothy. We would either go out to a diner or get take-out. While the adults talked, I would sit and watch TV or play a game. My Nana and I would always share York peppermint patties.
I could go on and on about the memories I have of her, but what is most painful are the memories I didn't get to share with her for the past 10 years. She never saw me graduate middle school, high school or college. She didn't see me off to Italy and greet me when I got back. She won't be at my wedding or at the birth of my first child, if that happens in my life.
And since hearing about my two aunts - Nana's sisters - and their struggle with the same cancer that killed her, I can't help but reflect on all of this, and how people are quick to form a negative opinion because of the cancer that killed her.
Don't get me wrong; she was a stubborn woman. I told her many times to just quit, to chew the gum or use the patch. I told her I would be there for her. She refused, and probably regretted it the day she learned her flu was really cancer.
Quitting is hard for any addiction. How many of us would willingly give up the Internet and programs such as AIM or Facebook? What about playing video games on the XBox 360 or Wii? Or that cell phone "permanently" attached to our ears and fingertips? Before reading this column, I would bet a fair number of people used at least one of these devices that we seem to "need" so badly in the 21st century, but it would never be thought of as an addiction.
Nana knew she had this addiction and she decided not to quit. That was her choice, no matter how much it hurts me.
There are no cures for cancer, including lung cancer. Research shows there are 1.35 million new cases of lung cancer per year worldwide, and 1.18 million people die from lung cancer each year. There was no way to save my Nana, because treatment is minimal. Yes, there was radiology and chemotherapy with a possibility of surgery, but cancer in the lungs can easily spread because of the function of the lungs to insert oxygen into the bloodstream.
For my aunts, there isn't much hope as they fight for their lives. As they suffer with cancer, they are shamed by the public for their decisions.
According to an online article by the Washington Post, in a poll of about 1,500 American adults, "researchers found 59 percent of respondents agreeing with the notion that lung cancer patients helped bring on their diagnosis. It's a bias that over time has led to fewer resources to investigate the number one cancer killer in the U.S., and added shame to the burden that lung cancer patients must carry, experts said."
That's what I call judging a book by its cover. But I can understand how it's hard to see a person's struggle with addiction and life decisions until they are gone. It took me 10 years to come to terms with Nana's death.
And, cigarettes or not, she's still the Nana I'll always love.
Bethany Fehlinger is the city editor at The Sentinel.