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Educating On Lung Cancer


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Educating on lung cancer

Mom's goal is to stop students' tobacco use

Did you know?

♦More people die of lung cancer each year than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.

♦Nearly twice as many women die of lung cancer each year than die of breast cancer.

♦For 80 percent to 90 percent of smokers, the smoking habit began before they were 18.

By Jennifer L. Boen

of The News-Sentinel

The year is nearly over, and for nearly 162,000 Americans, it is the year that lung cancer claimed their lives. No other cancer claimed as many lives.

Anita DeSelm of Fort Wayne knows the pain of losing a loved one to lung cancer. She has dealt with the deaths of both her mother and daughter to the disease.

Her mother's lung cancer was caused by smoking, and tobacco use is the cause of nearly 90 percent of lung cancer cases, according to the American Lung Association.

But Jennifer DeSelm Robbins, Anita DeSelm's daughter, never smoked. Her parents did in early adulthood, but both quit. Yet lung cancer claimed the Homestead High School grad's life in 2005, when she was just 20. Doctors do not know the cause. While many questions remain in DeSelm's mind, it is the deaths of her mother and daughter that drive her passion for educating teens about lung health and the detrimental effects of tobacco.

“I don't care how you get (lung cancer), you don't want to die from it,” she said.

During Janet Richter's health classes at Northrop High School on Thursday, students heard DeSelm talk about the disease through a program designed by an Indiana nonprofit called Cancer Free Lungs.

When DeSelm starts her talk, she says only that she has very personal reasons for being there.

“Most students assume I have lung cancer,” she said.

Her presentation includes statistics, graphic photos of cancer and a discussion of the tobacco industry's marketing strategies to young people. The marketing is effective because more than one in five Indiana high school students is a current smoker, according to the most recent Indiana Youth Risk Behavior Survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I think it's higher than that here at Northrop,” said sophomore Auston Ladd. “They think it's cool to smoke with their friends.”

The 2007 survey also shows that 16 percent of high school students reported smoking a whole cigarette before they were 13 years old. Additionally, the number of students who smoked cigars or cigarillos increased almost 14 percent between 2005 and 2007.

“Students say, ‘But your daughter didn't smoke and she got lung cancer,'” as if that gives smokers some sort of sense of security. “But I tell them I watched her die from lung cancer. It spread from her lungs to her brain and, in the end, it was in her bones.”

DeSelm showed Richter's health classes a DVD that includes pictures of a healthy Jennifer and of a Jennifer whose body was ravaged by the disease. DeSelm got emotional as she spoke of losing her daughter just one year and four days after the diagnosis. Some of Richter's students' eyes also glistened with tears when DeSelm told them, “I held my daughter for 10 hours as she died.”

Students were surprised to know that every day - not every year, every day - 4,000 U.S. kids under age 18 try smoking for the first time. Erin Bartlett, a Northrop sophomore, said she thought breast cancer, not lung cancer, was the leading cause of cancer deaths.

“Do you think if tobacco was discovered today it would be legal?” she asked. In unison, students said no. Medical science is unable to predict who can or cannot easily quit - or whose lungs may be more susceptible to the DNA changes in smokers' lung cells that researchers like Dr. Nasser Hanna of Indiana University School of Medicine's Cancer Center are detecting.

“Why take a chance? Just don't start smoking, and you won't have to worry about it,” DeSelm said.

Before she died, Jennifer DeSelm Robbins asked her mother to promise she would learn everything she could about lung cancer, then do whatever was possible to prevent the disease from killing others.

“If one kid can be saved,” DeSelm said, “then I (kept) my promise to Jen.”

Lung cancer facts

♦For every lung cancer death in 2006, the National Cancer Institute spent $1,630 in research, compared with $13,452 per breast cancer death.

♦Tobacco use is the cause of one-third of all cancer deaths and one out of every five deaths from heart disease.

♦Secondhand smoke causes about 3,400 lung cancer deaths of U.S. non-smokers each year.

Sources: American Lung Association; American Cancer Society; 2007 Indiana Youth Risk Behavior Survey

Raising awareness

More than 10,000 Indiana students have been reached through free education programs by Cancer Free Lungs (formerly Lungs for Life) since the nonprofit was founded in 2005 by thoracic oncologist Dr. Nasser Hanna. Because of the growth of educational services, Cancer Free Lungs is seeking funding to update tools used in the classroom. A walk-a-thon fundraiser will be May 3 at Headwaters Park. Corporate sponsorship is needed. For more information, e-mail Anita DeSelm at anita@ cancerfreelungs.org. Also visit the organization's Web site at cancerfreelungs.org.

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