my grandma's lung cancer story
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Thank you AstraZeneca for sponsoring this post. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Now more than ever, there is reason for hope. Please visit LIVE W.E.L.L. and LVNG With Lung Cancer for more information.

Grandma with newborn me
This is my grandma holding my older sister and I the day that I was born. I don’t have a whole lot of pictures of her and I together even though she cared for me regularly when I was a child. She didn’t like being in front of the camera. My mom had a 30-minute drive to work. My grandma would watch my sister and I before and after school. Most of my family has remained in roughly the same area, so she would also babysit some of my cousins. She hosted large get-togethers for the holidays, and not just Thanksgiving and Christmas, but ones like Easter as well. A lot of us got together to have a yearly yard sale the weekend of Mother’s day most years. I got really lucky when it comes to grandmothers. I feel like she was the ideal grandmother that you’d read about in a book. She cooked with us – everything from Christmas cookies to homemade cinnamon rolls, to french toast made with homemade bread. She kept a big garden and made homemade jam that everyone still raves about. She taught me how to braid hair, how to make friendship bracelets, and she helped me work on learning to read. I had a pair of yellow bib overalls that I loved so much that my mom hunted down a replacement pair after I outgrew the first ones. She loved birds, and she would call me her little goldfinch when I wore my yellow bibs. I still think of her every single time I see a goldfinch.

Grandma and papa

She beat a different type of cancer once, but ultimately it was lung cancer that claimed her life. She passed in the spring of 2000 when I was 8, almost 9 years old. I was quite young, but it was still a devastating loss for me because she had been such a vital person in my life. I heard bits and pieces about cancer then, but I was too young to understand it. As I got older, I heard people primarily talk about lung cancer as a reason to not smoke cigarettes. My grandmother never smoked, though. I think that is one of the really frustrating things about cancer, is we often can’t understand why it happens. It’s hard to accept that there isn’t always a clear reason. Treatment options can be overwhelming and confusing, too. I decided to partner on this post and share my grandmother’s story for a few reasons. In part, I just know how devastating cancer is, and how common it is. If you are battling cancer, or you love someone who is, you are likely surrounded by people who can relate. We may not always talk about cancer openly, but almost everyone has some experience with loving someone who had fought it. This is particularly true of lung cancer. However, I also want to help spread information that may help those currently living with lung cancer. There have been advances in treatment knowledge and options since my grandma had it almost 20 years ago.

In the United States, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women, accounting for approximately 154,000 deaths each year and about one-quarter of all cancer deaths – more than breast, prostate and colorectal cancers combined. Lung cancer is not just one disease; about 80 to 85 percent have non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and about 10 to 15 percent of patients have small cell lung cancer, and each category has many different subtypes within it. Because there are different types of lung cancer, when someone is diagnosed, it’s important to understand the specific characteristics of the disease, so they can find out which types of treatment are most appropriate for them. This is the crux of “personalized medicine” – ensuring each patient is treated according to the specific characteristics of their unique diagnosis.

In recent years, researchers have come to understand important details of how lung cancer grows and spreads. This has led to important new treatment options that treat cancer differently from conventional therapies, like chemotherapy and radiation. Two important types of therapy are targeted medicines and immunotherapies. In later stages of lung cancer, particularly stages 3 and 4 NSCLC, these types of medicines are changing the way cancer is treated.

November is Lung Cancer awareness month. This month, I ask you to please join me in spreading the word. If you know anyone who has been diagnosed with lung cancer, help them to understand how it is critical that they become their own advocate, understand their full diagnosis, and talk to their medical team about what treatment options are right for them. Thanks to changes in research and treatment options, now more than ever, there is reason for hope. Please visit LIVE W.E.L.L. and LVNG With Lung Cancer for more information.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

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This post currently has 15 responses.

  • Darcy Koch

    Sorry for your loss at such a young age. Your grandmother does seem like all the things we want and need in a grandmother. I’m glad you have great memories of her. My mother-in-law passed away at the age of 67 from lung cancer. Unfortunately, she was a smoker. Our loved ones may have gone away but the memories are ours forever.

    • Sorry to hear about your MIL. In some ways it feels ‘unfair’ that my grandma had lung cancer without a history of smoking. Yet I think cancer is always unfair, really. And I have heard of people who get lung cancer after smoking and essentially get a “Well maybe you shouldn’t have smoked, then!” responses and that just hurts my heart. I wish everyone who got any kind of cancer was met with empathy and support only.

  • ellen beck

    Your Grandmother sounds like she was the rock of your family. It would have been a terrible loss I am so sorry you didn’t have more time. It is true, here are now so many more advances for lung cancer. You said she never smoked, and yes that is frustrating when someone has lung cancer who hasnt smoked to even say they have or had it. I am glad you wrote this pos and are making people aware.

    • Thank you <3. Yes, she was 100% the rock of the family so it was a huge loss. My grandfather was 6 years older than her, yet he just passed less than a year ago, at age 90. So he outlived her by almost 18 years despite being 6 years older which you just don't expect, particularly given how women typically live longer than men. They had been married 52 years when she died (they were 16 and 21 when they got together!) so it as tough to see him be alone for so long after having been with her for so long. In a way it feels frustrating that she never smoked, like it's unjust? Yet when other family members of mine have gotten other types of cancer it felt pretty unfair too. It just seems like with lung cancer we tend to feel like we 'should' be able to avoid it through lifestyle choices where we don't tend to feel the same way about other types of cancer. But regardless of the circumstances or 'lifestyle' someone has lived, I think, cancer just sucks.

  • Alice F.

    Your Grandmother seems like the perfect one! Lung Cancer is horrible and so unjust for those that never smoked. I am sorry for you loss and I enjoyed reading your post about her.

  • Alice F.

    Your Grandmother seems like the perfect one! Lung Cancer is horrible and so unjust for those that never smoked. I am sorry for you loss and I enjoyed reading your post about her.

  • Anita L

    This is such a sad story, but it truly sounds as though your grandmother was a beautiful lady and I have no doubt that she is in heaven looking down on you daily. I personally do not know of anyone having passed from lung cancer, but my previous partner did pass from colon cancer and I totally understand what it’s like to lose someone you are close to from cancer.

  • gloria patterson

    It is a serious thing lung cancer and it hurts more than just the person who has it. (tears)

    You were a lucky girl to know your grandmother so well and to have so many memories that you can share with your kids.

  • Deanna Marissa

    Your grandmother was really a beautiful and very brave lady. I know how it feels if you have someone with lung cancer. I have lost my dearest uncle. It was so heartbreaking.

  • Karen Jaras

    You are so fortunate to have such great memories of your grandmother. So many today come from broken families and by high school there is little to no family around anymore.

  • Darcy Koch

    Like you, my grandmother died from lung cancer. Also like you, I have so many wonderful memories of her and all the special things she said and did.

  • Maryann D.

    Your grandmother was truly a wonderful person and I wish you had more time with her. It is so sad to lose someone from cancer. We all need to be educated about lung cancer. I myself do not know much about it, but do have relatives who passed from it.

  • Dorothy Boucher

    I’m so sorry for your loss, and its a shame that not enough is being done about this. Its so sad that our system cares more about building up the military than saving lives. just my opinion.

  • Sarah L

    I didn’t know about the new treatments for lung cancer. Sad that they didn’t come along until long after your grandmother had it.

  • Michelle S

    I’m sorry for you loss! I lost two grandparents when I was about the same age. I always wished for more time with them. I did have an aunt die of lung cancer but it was due to smoking. She only quit after she was diagnosed.

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