Lung Cancer. Enough.

Did you know that November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month?

As I shared back in January, my sister Lucy’s husband, Paul, was diagnosed with lung cancer eighteen months ago. Many readers have asked about Paul over the past year, and while I haven’t said too much (to respect Lucy and Paul’s privacy online), I wanted you to know how much those kind thoughts have meant to all of us.

Before Paul was diagnosed, I didn’t realize how often lung cancer strikes young non-smokers (like Paul). Lung cancer also kills more women than breast, ovarian and cervical cancers combined. Because smoking is the most common risk factor, lung cancer is often stigmatized and doesn’t get nearly enough funding. (Here are some eye-opening facts.)

Lisa Goldman, a young mom with lung cancer, writes great posts about lung cancer misconceptions:
Lungs. They’re Right Under Your Boobs!
Go Ahead (and ask me if I smoked)…Make My Day

This week, Lucy told me about the Purple Toes campaign, where OPI will send a purple nail polish to people who donate $25 or more to the ALCF for lung cancer research and advocacy. I wanted to spread the word, in case you might consider donating. Again, thank you so, so much for your support and concern for our family, and sending strength to all of you who have been touched by cancer. xoxo

P.S. You may remember Paul’s article, “How Long Have I Got Left?” and here’s a video interview with Paul, too.

(Photo from our wedding by Max Wanger)

  1. I am very lucky to have found this website especially this particular post. i am an ardent smoker and i am 100% scared of the health effects of the habit. its obvious i am dwelling in the ocean of an upcoming cancer which i really need help fighting. please i really need advice(s) on how to curb this smoking habit. thanks for you article though.

  2. Stephanie says...

    I’ve been a long time reader, never commenter, of your blog and just 3 months ago my husband was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at age 36, also a non-smoker. I remembered reading some of your posts on your brother-in-law and have since re-read them all and read his article and book. Thank you so much to you and your family for sharing this experience. From the book, I am in awe of the grace with which your sister handled everything. I have a 3 year old and a 1 year old and just managing to get through each day is a feat. My heart goes out to her and your whole family.

  3. My father passed away last Christmas day of lung cancer. He was not a smoker.

    Thank you for bringing more awareness to this topic. Enough is right.

  4. Joanna. I just read the article and it was heart breaking. I am praying for your brother in law and your sister. Despite what his results said I hope they have many many wonderful years together.

  5. Joanna, thank you so much for sharing. Lisa (Goldman) was/is a dear friend of my cousin, who just lost her battle with breast cancer a couple months ago. I applaud any opportunity that is taken to shed light on diseases that impact the lives of so many. Blessings to your family.

  6. Thank you for sharing. It looks like this hits home to a lot of readers.

    Be a Piece of the Solution is an organization that has made phenomenal strides towards lung cancer treatments in just a short time:

  7. Jill Costello and (too many) other young cancer patients inspired the following study.

    I’m with the Addario Lung Cancer Medical Institute (ALCMI, voiced as “Alchemy”, partner foundation to the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation (ALCF)–ALCF supports ALCMI with funding and more).

    This past July ALCMI launched a one-of-a-kind clinical study called the “Genomics of Young Lung Cancer” to help us understand the causes of lung cancer in the young, and to steer patients towards individualized treatments. Patients can participate from anywhere in the world; to learn more:

  8. I think about your brother-in-law’s story often. Hugs and prayers to you and your family.

  9. Thank you so much for raising awareness of this devastating disease. My father passed on Thanksgiving Day 2012 at 57 after a brief but brave battle against non-smokers lung cancer. Wishing strength and health to your sister and brother in law.

  10. Living so close to Stanford and having many friends that are drs. there, i think of your brother in law often. i’m glad to know he is doing reasonably well considering. thank you for bringing awareness to the funding issues around lung cancer. Thoughts and prayers to all of you.

  11. Thanks for spreading awareness about lung cancer, Joanna! You shared a staggering fact about lung cancer – that it kills more people each year than breast, cervical , and ovarian combined – but did you know the INSANE other half to that statement? Lung cancer also receives the least amount of research funding compared to any one of those diseases. It’s not the science that is holding back progress on lung cancer treatments, it’s the funding. So happy to see that you’re helping to open people’s eyes. Great post. (Also, like many other readers, I’m sending positive thoughts to Paul and the rest of your family.)

  12. My thoughts and prayers are with your sister and her husband. I, too, lost my father to lung cancer, it was a terrible terrible thing especially since he was a non-smoker and very young too :(

  13. I hope all goes well. Also, you are a great sister to respect her wishes. my prayers go to your family for many healthy family outtings and visits.

  14. My heart goes out to anyone that has to face a life threatening or life changing illness/disease. As for the idea that being a smoker or non smoker is relevant, I don’t think that it matters either way. We all make choices that aren’t always the healthiest. I am not a smoker, but sometimes I splurge and treat myself to a burger and fries…I don’t think that I deserve to suffer from heart disease someday. I think we all need to realize that smoker or not…lung cancer is life changing and heartbreaking for everyone involved. I wish all the best to your brother-in-law, and to everyone near and dear to him.

  15. How awful that your sister and your family have to go through this. I have lost some people to cancers of various kinds and enough is enough. Thank you for raising awareness and talking about purple toes campaign!
    xoxo, Laura

  16. This hit very close to home for me and my family right now. My father in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer this Fall and was given a 6 month to 1 year timeline. He’s recently been switched to a 3rd line of medication because the first two rounds of chemo didn’t work. Within the past week they have found tumors on his spinal column and have started daily radiation treatment. The kicker in all of this? My husband and I are expecting our first child this December (their family’s first grandchild, too). It’s been such a bittersweet time. He has openly said that this baby has been the biggest motivating factor for him to get up and out of bed every day. As much pressure as that puts on me, I feel so incredibly blessed that I’m able to provide him some hope and something to look forward to.
    As for right now the doctors “think” he will make it to meeting his first grandchild. I hope they are right and pray every day for anyone who may be going through a similar experience.
    Sending prayers and positive thoughts to your sister and her husband.

  17. Lots of well wishes to your sister and brother-in-law. I know cancer is devastating and I’m so sorry your family is going through this.

    I work a large cancer-fighting organization and know that environmental (scary!) and genetic factors can also attribute to a lung cancer diagnosis. Radon gas, air pollution, and asbestos can be especially harmful.

    Also, FYI – November happens to be National Family Caregiver Month. Remind your sis it’s OK for her to have “me” time.

  18. Wow – even having lost a grandparent to lung cancer, I wasn’t aware of most of the facts you shared. You’ve educated at least one person with this post, and I will share this with others :)
    Love and courage to your family Xx

  19. I have clearly missed this. I am so sorry to hear about it, and I do hope he’s doing ok.

    My aunt died of lung cancer after over 15 years worth of suffering. Mind you, even in hospital she was fighting- she had prescription whiskey and everything! When she died she barely had 2/3s of one lung left.

  20. I always wondered about your BIL I’m hopeful that he and your sister are doing as well as it can possibly be. I lost my mother to pancreatic cancer in 2004. We were told a week before. Thanks for sharing with all of us once again. xx

  21. this post really touched me. my uncle, a long-time smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer about 2 years ago, and lost a lung due to the disease. he’s okay now, but it was a really traumatic time for the family. yes, he was a smoker, but doesn’t make it any easier. it’s a terrifying disease all the same. thanks for making a point to try to erase the stigma. it means a lot to those affected.

  22. I have followed your blog for a long time but have never left a comment. My good friend Jill Costello died of lung cancer when we were 22, just 4 years ago. During her battle with lung cancer she became involved with ALCF, and now I’m party of the advisory board to the foundation called Jill’s Legacy. Thank you so much for sharing! We are on a mission to beat lung cancer BIG TIME and it’s great to have you as one in our army. Love the work you do, Joanna!

  23. I liked this article. Kinda popped into My webpage out of the blue, really… I dunno how but I guess it’s somehow divine intervention.
    My father passed away 8 years ago this month from cancer. We found out at the 4th stage, so… I was 14 and I never actually ask about the details. I just do remember that it had spread all over. Dr. suspected either Oral or Lung, and My father was a heavy smoker.
    The thing is, it’s been on My mind lately, that cancer seems to be the world’s greatest evil nowadays, everyday We hear someone or another getting it. I try to get on ok terms with the idea that I may have it one day – genetics. I am not a smoker, and I completely agree with You on banishing the stereotype. The more We are aware that stereotypes DO NOT protect Us, the safer We may be eventually…
    I’ve blabbered enough :)
    God be with Your sister and I hope Your brother-in-law gets better, and heals eventually, I pray He does.

    Loads of love, SJay.

  24. My mother recently died due to lung cancer. She was a smoker. Perhaps her cancer could have been prevented, perhaps not. No one “deserves” cancer! I think making the distinction between smokers and non-smokers with lung cancer only hurts the cause. My heart goes out to your family. We must always keep hope alive!

  25. I am so grateful you re-posted the essay from your brother in law.

    I am 36. A single mother of a 2 year old, a veteran teacher, non smoker, non drinker, happy carefree person until . . .

    A month ago I was told I have colon cancer, which has spread to my liver. I found out after suffering with severe anemia, which chemo has made even worse.

    I needed his advice in his essay.

  26. Cancer is the worst. I heard the news yesterday that my favorite teacher from high school passed away from brain cancer yesterday morning. He was an amazing person who left an impression on everyone he met. He actually wrote a book about trying to make a difference in his students lives called The Priority List, and long story short, it’s now being made into a movie with Steve Carrell playing my teacher. The whole thing is incredibly surreal, and ultimately, just heartbreaking. Here’s a little write up on him.

    Anyway, thanks for the info on this campaign. I’ll definitely be supporting it. All forms of cancer are terrible. I hope your brother in law stays strong and keeps on fighting!

  27. Thanks, Jo. I’m sending lots of positive vibes toward you and your family. My grandfather died from lung cancer, and my father is a big smoker (and smoked inside our house while I was growing up…), so this is a topic that hits close to home.

    For me, this is also a timely post. I just found out yesterday that I have skin cancer (I’m only 32! and it still feels so weird to say that). Fortunately, it should be easy to remove, and it’s a type that doesn’t spread to other body types. That said, it’s still a scary word.

    Hugs and love to everyone out there who has been touched by terrible disease.

  28. Thanks for sharing and best wishes for your family.

    More than 20,000 people in the US die each year from lung cancer due to radon. Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that seeps into homes through the soil underneath the foundation.

    Getting your home tested is easy and inexpensive and radon mitigation systems are simple to have installed!

    Every one should have their homes tested. Radon induceed lung cancer is completely preventable. January is radon awareness month. You should consider dedicating a post to awareness in January!

  29. I’ve been thinking about him! My good friend is a fundraiser for the American Lung Association and she has shared with me the same information that you just did. She get’s rather frustrated the lung cancer lacks the funding despite it’s huge impact. You should start a walk team for the closest walk near you!

  30. It’s sad to hear people think this is stigmatized. No illness should be, whether it be a mental illness or cancer- lung or otherwise. I think questions like are you a smoker? are not meant to stigmatize but are (perhaps insensitive) questions to understand and learn more. Good luck to your family. Cancer sucks.

  31. I have been thinking about your brother-in-law quite a bit lately. I hope he is doing well and that he and Lucy are finding strength, support and lots of love during his brave fight with cancer.
    Thank you for these links to educate ourselves on lung cancer. Many prayers, thoughts and love to Lucy and Paul.

  32. Thanks for sharing this with us, Joanna. My best wishes go to Paul and Lucy and I hope for them all the best.

  33. Hugs for your family! I lost my grandfather to lung cancer. He was a pastor, never smoke or drank. We strongly suspect his cancer was due to radon because his office was in the basement. Radon is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer. It’s easy to have your house checked and fixing the problem is relatively inexpensive. Here’s more info:

  34. Nobody deserves to go through the pain and suffering of any type of cancer. Smokers and nonsmokers alike.

  35. Thank you for sharing this. My mother also has lung cancer, and the stigma associated with it really does irk me. She has the same oncologist as your brother in-law (unless he has changed), and she is awesome. My mom was diagnosed in 2009 and has just reached 5 years, though is now very sick, but I know she would have been gone a long time ago were it not for Dr. Wakelee & her team :)

  36. Joanna, is there any data available to the public about why lung cancer kills so many? Are they thinking there is a genetic link to something? Environmental? I think it’s absolutely true that most people (including me) still thought that most lung cancer diagnoses had something to do with smoking. I want to be better educated about this. Blessings and wishes for speedy and complete healing to your brother-in-law.

  37. Love to you and your sister, brother in law, and all of those who you touch every day Joanna. Thank you for sharing this. You always do so in such a tactful, gracious way.

  38. Sending lots of love and prayer to Lucy & Paul.

  39. I’ve lost several of my friends in their early 50’s to many cancers including lung cancer where my friend was not a smoker. Thank you for bringing awareness to this dreadful disease. Sending love and prayers to your family. xxoo

  40. Thank you for sharing this on your blog. My father was diagnosed in 2009 with lung cancer and he was a non smoker too. He passed away 2 months ago. I’m heart broken. He had 5 good years thanks to treatment at MD Anderson in Houston. I had no idea that lung cancer was the number one cancer killer nor that it was so underfunded. I’m so glad that we are bringing more awareness to this dreadful killer. My dad was only 61. I’ll be keeping Paul in my thoughts for strength.

  41. Sad. smoker or not. I hope that some wonderful new developments and treatments come soon.
    Dr Paul’s article was wonderful.

  42. I wanted to express my sympathies to your family…dealing with such a diagnosis puts strain on everyone and everyone is affected. I also wanted to thank you for spreading the news about young lung cancer often being completed unrelated to smoking…the stigma associated with this disease requires attention to turn it around and you, along with some great organizations, are working to do that. Finally, I wanted to point you to an online magazine for young adults dealing with cancer ( It offers lifestyle management support for young adults dealing with cancer at any stage, as well as their caregivers. Hugs to you!

  43. Thank you for sharing this on your blog. My father was diagnosed in 2009 with lung cancer and he was a non smoker too. He passed away 2 months ago. I’m heart broken. He had 5 good years thanks to treatment at MD Anderson in Houston. I had no idea that lung cancer was the number one cancer killer nor that it was so underfunded. I’m so glad that we are bringing more awareness to this dreadful killer. My dad was only 61. I’ll be keeping Paul in my thoughts for strength.

  44. Many thoughts of love to your brother-in-law, sister and your entire family. It is wonderful for the world that he has felt able to share his journey to help bring awareness to this terrible cancer. I am also shocked that people can be so judgmental on why a person gets something. Like if you smoke you had it coming? Crazy. However you get anything we should work to help. Best.

  45. As someone who has seen many family members and friends battle cancer, Paul’s article (and your post) left an indelible impression on me. Sending love and strength to your family.

  46. My sister’s brother in law died at 26 of lung cancer – and never smoked a day in his life. Their family also speaks of the stigma attached to it. Obviously there are other causes of lung cancer, but it makes you wonder just how much secondhand smoke really affected all of us when it was allowed in all bars and restaurants. I am SO happy we are past those days and our children will not be exposed to anywhere near as much!!

  47. I have two cousins fighting lung cancer. One smoked all of her adult life, the other never did. I pray for them both and grieve the suffering they both endure. May we never be so self-righteous that we fail to weep with those who weep and comfort those that need comfort.

  48. I would love to add that there are new lung cancer screening recommendations for smokers/once smokers who are age 55 to 80 and smoked at least a pack a day for 30 years or more (or smoked more packs for less time)…(per the us preventative task force). I know this wouldn’t capture your brother in law though and my heart breaks for all who get lung cancer.

    These screening recommendations are fairly new, so perhaps we all should inform the smokers in our lives, as we all have smokers in our lives.

  49. I love this. I lost my mom to lung cancer just before her 45th birthday. She was a never-smoker. When people would ask what kind of cancer she had I would always feel a need to quickly clarify: “she has never smoked!!” It angered me that someone so healthy would end up with a terminal disease…she didn’t ‘deserve’ it.

    After her death, I went to nursing school and ended up working in oncology as a chemotherapy infusion nurse. I realized that no one ‘deserves’ cancer, not the young, the old, those who are healthy as can be, or those who have weaknesses like smoking.

    I appreciate seeing awareness and fundraising for all types of cancer. Thinking of your sister and her husband!

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  51. Jo says...

    Oh, Joanna! Thank you SO much for sharing this with us. I actually have been wondering quite a lot how Lucy and Paul (I feel like I know them, from following your blog all the way back since 2007! :o) have been lately but of course, asking felt like I’d be infringing on your family’s privacy… Your posting really made my day (as usual)! Thank you and all the best to Lucy and Paul!

  52. I know two people who sadly passed from lung cancer and neither had ever been smokers. It was very eye opening to me and a good reminder that cancer is never anyone’s “fault”. My thoughts are with you and your family, I hope you’re all able to stay strong during any difficult times.

  53. Thank you so much for a little “update” sliver. Lots of love to you and yours.

  54. Thank you for posting this. My dad died 3 years ago, when I was 29 of COPD. Not lung cancer, but another devastating (and devastatingly common) lung disease that receives proportionally little funding (especially charitable funding) because of it’s association with smoking. It’s devastating for me when anyone’s first reaction is to ask if my dad was a smoker. He was, but a long time ago, and he was also a great writer and editor, a fantastic teacher, and the best dad anyone could hope to have right up until the day he died. And that matters so much more.

  55. Hi! I’m just 31 and lost my father this March due to lung cancer. He was diagnosed when it was in stage 4, so nothing could be done. For a while he was super good with quimio but in January he started going down so fast I didn’t see it coming. I live in Boston but I’m from Spain and was just able to see him 2 days before he died, and it broke my heart.
    As I write this I’m crying, but I cannot help it. :(

  56. Great post. I work in lung cancer research and it’s astounding how little funding is available for combatting the number one cause of cancer-related mortality in the world.

    Lots of love to Paul and your family. I believe in the power of science and medicine, but also the power of positive thinking.

  57. Think about your brother-in-law and your family often. Paul’s column left a lasting impression on me and so many others as made clear in the interview. Thank you for sharing this critical information about the disease, as well as an opportunity to donate. I’ll continue to hold good thoughts for your family.

  58. sending lots and lots of strength and positive thought to all of you! i can’t imagine what it’s like to take part in this kind of fight, but i’m sure that the love you all share for each other is the most powerful weapon you’ve got.
    many kisses!

  59. A few years ago, there were lung cancer advocate ads all over the DC metro. They emphasized that ALL people can be susceptible to lung cancer, not just smokers. I thought it was a really effective and well-done campaign that really opened my eyes for the first time to this issue. Thanks for sharing!

  60. I often think about your brother in law. I hope that he and your sister are doing well. Thanks for the link, my Dad had stage 3 lung cancer and EVERYBODY always asks if he smoked, like he somehow deserved it. It drives me nuts.

  61. Thank you so much for sharing, Joanna! What a wonderful, worthy campaign. Sending lots of love and strength to your family! xo

  62. Hugs and hopeful joy to your family!

  63. Prayers are going out to your sister and her hubby! We lost my father in law last year due to stomach cancer.