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The stigma of lung cancer


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Hi all,

I'm fairly new here but would like to says thanx to all of you and the support you give each other.

It seems difficult especially for my husband because he now feels all the guilt from his past years of smoking. He says, "Everybody knows I did it to myself, why should I get sympathy?" I can't get him past this point of self blame.

How do you others deal with this, and what do you say when the first response from a person is, "Did he smoke?"

Hope you all have a happy and blessed New Year,


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My husband felt bad about that also. He mentioned it more in the beginning of his illness and seemed to let it go later. I think with him it was because he had tried to quit over and over, and finally did but I think he wondered if he'd quit sooner if he would have gotten cancer. When people ask me if he smoked I say he had in the past (he quit about 4 years before his diagnosis) and then I go on to tell them this disease isn't just for smokers.

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Hello Ghita,

Welcome here, sorry you had to find us.

I understand your dads statement, as most smokers feel the same. That is one of the reasons why LC does not get the funding to find a cure like other cancers. Which is not fair as it is the number one killer of both men and women. This is NOT to say your dad will die as there are so many treatments out there. And there are so many survivors now compared to years ago.

Not sure if these statistics exactly correct but close- 40% of people who get LC were former smokers (some over 20 years) and 10% are non-smokers. So it seems in many cases even is you stopped smoking you still are not immuned to this disease.

You dad has every right to feel that way as this is so new to him. He will eventually emotionally feel better about himself when this becomes his new normal. He will also feel better once he starts treatment.

Please know that we are always here for you 24/7 for questions, support, prayers or if you just need to vent.

Please keep us informed on his progress.

Hang strong! Keep a positive attitude as this can be beaten.

Maryanne :wink:

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My husband agonized over this issue. He went back and forth about how he felt about it. I don't think he ever really could get past it fully and feel peace about it (because he apologized to me so often), but I can say that everyone else in our life that mattered did. I don't think he ever heard anyone say to him that he did this to himself. (His mum had quit many years before she was diagnosed.) You can say that about so many things in life. The guy that ran a marathon and had a heart attack. The person who loves food and gets heart disease. It's not a matter of dismissing the impact of smoking or downgrading the importance of quitting -- it's just a matter of starting from "now." No one deserves lung cancer.

I wish you and your husband all the best.

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We struggled with this when Mom was first diagnosed. A wise member here on the board encouraged me to simply respond, "Why do you ask?" It puts it back on the person, who often has no idea how insensitive, hurtful, and ignorant they are being.

In my experience, non-smokers are hoping you will say "yes", so they can avoid worrying that this could possibly happen to them.

I always thought it interesting--you wouldn't ask someone with cervical cancer if they slept around, or a diabetic how many Twinkies they ate per day. Regardless of the answers, no one 'deserves' any illness.


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Ghita: I'm new too, joined Dec 28, 2007. After smoking for 34 years and quitting about ten years ago, I slipped the noose on the smokers stigma. I can still remember my relief that followed on the heels of the shock after learning that they found cancer cells in the fluid drained from my lung after a Sep 20 hospitalization. The doctor assured me I had adenocarcinoma and, he said, it is not "smokers cancer." I remember thinking, "thank God I didn't do it to myself." I can't imagine the additional struggle your husband and others in that situation have since I already feel so badly for my family who have to go through this ordeal with me. Keep reminding your husband that self-blame is not an appropriate response to cancer. I'm sure he appreciates hearing it.

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I smoked for 27 years but don't feel that guilty about it anymore. I had to make peace with that. When I was growing up we all smoked, we don't all have lung cancer, I finally decided that I was destined for this disease with or without the cigarettes. My children though on the other hand suffer about this I think. Yesterday my son saw a commericial for a new device to help smokers quit and he said "I wish they invented this sooner".

When others ask me if I smoked, I now respond "Yes I did, but I have met so many lung cancer patients that have never smoked".

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My mom gets asked that question all the time too and you should see the stunned looks on people's faces when she says she's a never smoker. She has the "same" LC everyone else has. I think most people are looking for a reason, because otherwise LC is too scary. I went through this myself. I never worried about getting LC until Mom was diagnosed, then I was terrified by the idea. It wasn't that I wanted to blame her, but I wanted a reason for her cancer. If there was no reason then it meant I might get it too.

Your husband doesn't "deserve" this any more than my mom does. He didn't do it to himself so I hope he will stop feeling guilty. I don't know what to tell the people who keep asking the question. They don't know anybetter because everyone, including those who should know better (aka the American Cancer Society)keep telling them that LC is a smoker's disease.


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#2 Smoking isn't illegal (it should be, but that's another story) so he didn't commit a crime.

#3 I get this question often when I talk about our foundation...so when I do I often say, "That's not the point."

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Thank you KatieB and others who have posted in this thread for your reassurance; I was going to do a new post today as I am just fuming right now, but this thread is perfect:

Two times just this morning I heard radio ads about LC from the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance that addressed ONLY smokers and former smokers....as if those are the only people who get LC -- really ticked me off that even now, in the very community who is treating LC, that the stigma that this is purely a smoker's disease persists. The second ad (which was to encourage early screening) even said that there was only a 5% survival rate at 3 years after dx -- that second ad was presented in such a way that it was like it was saying 'if you smoke/d you're going to die from this and fairly fast, but we can help you catch it early and perhaps give you a few extra years'..... :evil:

I can hardly blame anyone who poses the dreaded "do you smoke" question to us when that's what they hear everywhere. Ads like this don't do anything to prevent that "self blame" game either.


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I tried to keep quiet, but here goes....At the bottom of this post is what I pulled from the CDC site. Smokers are about 20 times more likely to get LC than non-smokers. That's a pretty strong relationship.

Consider too that so many non-smokers with allergies, asthma, other breathing problems have been forced to tolerate smoking in restaurants, theaters, airplanes and work place for many years. I think the new smoking laws make it pretty clear that non-smokers want to avoid second hand smoke.

Given the strong relationship between smoking and LC, and the years of being offended by second hand smoke, it is natural there is a certain amount of resentment and "told you so" from the non-smokers.

I think we can place the blame on the tobacco $$$$ and the US government for keeping tobacco legal. Asbestos isn't legal, so why is tobacco?


2004 Surgeon General’s Report—The Health Consequences of Smoking

Smoking Among Adults in the United States: Cancer



Cancer is the second leading cause of death and was among the first diseases causally linked to smoking. (p. 39)

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, and cigarette smoking causes most cases. (p. 61)

Compared to nonsmokers, men who smoke are about 23 times more likely to develop lung cancer and women who smoke are about 13 times more likely. Smoking causes about 90% of lung cancer deaths in men and almost 80% in women. (p. 39)

In 2003, an estimated 171,900 new cases of lung cancer occurred and approximately 157,200 people died from lung cancer. (p. 42)

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I'm over six years from dx and this subject still gets me all fired up.

I know why people are asking the question - if I don't smoke I'm safe and if I do I might be next - but I still find the qiestion extremely rude when I'm asked it.

There have been countless times over the last 6 years that I have been subjected to this behaviour re my LC but...not once since I was dx with BC in March 07 has anyone asked me any kind of personal question as to why I have this one, not even if I have a relative with it. Says a lot doesn't it!

I don't know how to remove the stigma, time and information sure aren't watering it down at all, next time you're asked give them my answer....

if you don't know me well enough to know, you don't know me well enough to ask!


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I got SO angry with this question with my mom (she passed at age 76 and had smoked, but had quit long before diagnosis).

I think that we should do everything possible to eliminate public smoking, no doubt. Even badger people who smoke to quit ... BUT, once someone has lung cancer -- that deadly, awful, unforgiving, disgusting beast -- your first question shouldn't be "well, did they smoke"?

My mom had adeno, and from what I've read on the subject, that certainly isn't definitively linked to smoking. All five of her older siblings died of one form of cancer or another, a sister in her 20's.

So, I decided that if people were rude enough to ask that question (with the associated "she deserved it" implications), I flat-out lied. I figured it wasn't hurting anyone by doing so, and even possibly raising awareness that it happens to young, non-smokers as well, possibly educating people.

So after about the first year of answering "well, she did for a few years when she was younger" and "but it wasn't necessarily caused by that" I just looked them right in the eye and said "nope, she never smoked".

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OK - so I will admit - I smoked for many years. I quit when I became pregnant with my son 16 years ago. And don't think I don't sometimes feel like I am putting my child through this because of what I did!

BUT - do we go up to someone who has had a heart attack and accuse them of eating wrong?? Would we refuse someone to have a liver transplant because they drank?? For some reason, smoking is looked at as the far worse vice of any and I don't know why.

When I worked, I worked at a VA Medical Center. When they banned smoking indoors, it was during the first Middle East Crisis some 20 (?) years ago. For those of you old enough to remember, they talked about the "scud huts" to protect people from the scud missiles. Well, the hospital built these little outside "huts" for us to smoke in and we all called them scud huts. Since it was a psychiatric hospital and many patients had priviledges to walk around, the huts became a place for dealing drugs and many patients pee'd in them. So all of us would go on the loading dock to smoke. One day, the Chief of Staff, who thank God I was good friends with or he would have fired me for the way I talked to him, was teasing me about not using the pee'd filled scud hut. I lit in to him that you may think my smoking is a dirty filthy habit, but I am NOT a dirty filthy person. My home is cleaner than a lot of houses. And I had to remind him that I had been at after work parties with him and seen him get into his car after having drank way too much. My cigarette on the way home wasn't going to kill a car load of kids, but his drinking could!!! Got an apology over that one!!

So now, when people say "oh, you have lung cancer, you must be a smoker" I just look at them and say "no, better get yourself checked out"!!

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