Bully Pulipts and Cancer

Article excerpt

Many well-known people have used their celebrity to create awareness about certain types of cancer. Katie Couric, anchor of TODAY on NBC, immediately comes to mind. Since her husband's death from colon cancer, she has done a number of programs to make the public aware that a simple screening procedure, a colonoscopy, can detect colon cancer early before it becomes deadly. To prove her point about how easy it is to have a colonoscopy, she had one on national television. With TODAY's millions of viewers, Couric has quite possibly saved hundreds of lives.

Breast cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer death in women, and prostate cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer death in men, have had their celebrity spokespersons. Usually survivors - Bob Dole, for example - point out that screening procedures such as PSA or mammography can detect these cancers early when, such as with colon cancer, there is a fighting chance for a cure.

As I have watched these spokespersons and applauded them for their efforts at raising public awareness, I always wonder, where is lung cancer's spokesperson? Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of both men and women. Yet, you rarely hear someone telling you what to do to fight lung cancer - to catch it before it kills you. Unfortunately the reason for this may be that right now there is precious little that can be done to detect lung cancer early and not a whole lot that can be done after a diagnosis. I am sorry to say that I know this from personal experience.

In 1993, by a very lucky fluke of getting a chest x-ray before an outpatient procedure, my husband was diagnosed with lung cancer. The spot on his lung was minuscule. It would not have ordinarily been discovered until he had some sort of symptoms. He was not a smoker after all, so he did not get regular chest x-rays as part of his physicals. Because it was discovered very early and a lobe of his lung was removed, his prognosis was brighter than that of most people who have lung cancer. "Go home, forget about this, and enjoy your life," the doctor told him. No one ever mentioned that there was a 50-percent chance of a recurrence. And in our efforts to forget about this terrifying time, neither of us read up on the disease to find that fact out for ourselves. The regular check-ups were scary-enough reminders.

The chest x-ray in June 1996 had been fine, although my husband seemed concerned about it - for no reason that he could explain. A nagging backache made him get an MRI in August, which showed that the lung cancer had recurred. Now in both lungs and down his spine, his prognosis could not have been worse: six to eight months to live, perhaps as much as a year with chemotherapy.

While being handed his death's ETA was gruesome enough, my husband's weekly chemotherapy was absolutely grueling. He was determined to live a "normal" life (like this was even vaguely possible), but the chemo stopped him in his tracks. After four months of a new treatment, x-rays and MRIs showed that the cancer was gone. He was in remission. Everyone was amazed. The oncologist counseled caution, but she was delighted with the results.

Then, in what is often lung cancer's natural progression, the cancer came back with a vengeance, this time in his brain. …