Or in the case of my son Andy, your grandfathers’ cancer. As members of Tom Brokaw’s “greatest generation,” Andy’s grandfathers took up smoking at an early age, but subsequently they heeded the Surgeon General’s warning and quit. Cessation didn’t spare either man a later diagnosis—in one case 25 years later—of terminal lung cancer.
Twenty months ago Andy learned the hard way that lung cancer isn’t just for smokers. Despite a history of never smoking, Andy was diagnosed at Stage IV and now faces not only his disease but a persistent stigma surrounding lung cancer victims that their disease has been self-inflicted by smoking. A lack of sympathy among the general public has led to lung cancer research being severely underfunded in comparison to other cancers.
While I can accept that my son has been dealt a bad hand, I will not accept the second class citizenship he endures due to a stereotype that assumes he is twice his age and a smoker. Tragically, Andy is far from alone. In fact, as a stand-alone disease, lung cancer in never smokers is the 6th leading cancer killer in the United States and the world’s number one cancer killer annually. And it strikes young adults like Andy, who is 34, at an alarming rate. A beautiful and supportive wife, 3 cute kids, and an army of family, friends, and strangers help Andy keep his hope alive.
Fortunately for us, Bonnie J. Addario doesn’t accept lung cancer’s stigma either! The foundation bearing her name is funding a research study looking specifically at the incidence and cause of lung cancer in people under 40. Since genomic alterations frequently lead to lung cancer, especially in never smokers, a key part of the Genomics of Young Lung Cancer study will be extensive genetic testing by Foundation Medicine, a company that tests patients to ensure an understanding of the molecular changes that contribute to their disease. I’m happy to say that Andy is participating.
In closing let me say that I’m doing my best not to be angry or resentful about the short straw drawn by lung cancer research. That far more has not been accomplished in fighting this disease I will chalk up to an innocent misperception, but with Bonnie J. Addario and Foundation Medicine as my partners, I’m starting the accountability clock right now.