Every Woman (and Cancer) Deserves Equal Treatment

Pat and her daughter at the  National Lung Cancer Summit.

Pat and her daughter at the National Lung Cancer Summit.

By Pat Dunn

In November 2015 I will be a 12 year lung cancer survivor.

When I was first diagnosed in 2003, the thoracic surgeon at our local hospital sat in his office, looked at my husband and I and said, “Go home. Get your affairs in order. You have six months to live.” I was 53 years old at the time and we had just celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary.

You may recall that back in the early 2000’s the computer was not what it is today. We were limited to searching WebMD, which offered no hope. It basically informed us that if you have lung cancer, you will die.

After discovering this realization, I went back to the oncologist’s office and asked him what we should do. He advised us to find someone who would take a chance and operate to remove the tumor.

I was lucky that both my daughter and son were living in Boston, home of some of the best hospitals in the country.  We went to the library, got out the yellow pages, copied down phone numbers and went home and started dialing anybody and everybody who sounded like they might know how to take care of lung cancer. It was not easy. There was no Lung Cancer Alliance to help. Most said if you have lung cancer you should not have smoked and yes, you are going to die soon.

Needless to say, we found a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who took a chance on me. I had surgery and he removed my upper right lobe and lots of lymph nodes. We returned to Florida for chemo and slowly settled back into life. A little less than 2 years later, my husband passed away suddenly from a massive heart attack at the age of 56.

Fast forward to March 2014, I had my yearly mammogram. The next day radiology called and said I need to come in for a more extensive mammogram. I went in on a Wednesday and the next day received a call from the nurse navigator that I had breast cancer and needed to set up an appointment with the surgeon’s office.  Things moved along rapidly. The oncologist called to tell me what surgeon to go to. The surgeon called to coordinate appointments and check in. The navigator offered to drive me anywhere and call anyone. People from the “pink army” called me to offer help. This was all lovely, but all I had was a small lump, not a death sentence. I could not believe the offers of help. I had a lumpectomy, a summer full of radiation and life went on.

The point of my story is the difference of two cancers. Lung cancer patients are treated so differently than breast cancer. I hope someday there will be as much help for lung cancer patients as breast cancer patients. As women we deserve to be treated equally, not stigmatized.

Thank goodness for Lung Cancer Alliance, I have found so many people who care about all of us: survivors, patients and caregivers. Any help I need is just a phone call away. Thank you all.


If you need help along your lung cancer journey, please call our HelpLine at 1-800-298-2436 or email support@lungcanceralliance.org. For more information visit http://www.lungcanceralliance.org/get-help-and-support/.