Laura Book has heard the statistics. Lung cancer claims more lives annually than breast, colon, prostate and pancreatic cancers combined. About 181 women die of lung cancer in the United States every day — that’s one every 8 minutes.
This haunts Book because in August 2016 she was diagnosed with stage-four EGFR-positive lung cancer. She never smoked. That’s the first question people always ask.
“There are a lot of people now who were never smokers who are getting lung cancer,” said Book, 64. “You don’t have to be a smoker. It’s really escalating. Even though the number of smokers has gone down in number, the cases are escalating. I believe it’s from the environment.”
On July 23, Book and others affected by lung cancer are headed to Washington, D.C., for the 2019 National Advocacy Summit hosted by the Go2 Foundation.
“We’ll take our collective voices to Congress to amplify the national call for increasing funding for lung cancer research as well as improving access to lung cancer screening and high quality of care,” she said.
“I’m taking my voice to Capitol Hill, but all individuals touched by lung cancer can make a difference right here in our community as well. If lung cancer has touched your life, tell people about it so they can get a better understanding of how it impacts the lives of neighbors, friends and family. By sharing our personal stories, we can finally get a conversation going about a type of cancer that continues to fly under the radar.”
The Department of Defense’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs allocates funding for cancer research. According to it, more than 221,200 U.S. men and women will be diagnosed with lung cancer, and over 158,040 will die from the disease.
Lung cancers are generally diagnosed at an advanced, incurable stage because patients often lack signs and symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Several factors have been shown to contribute to the development of lung cancer, smoking and exposure to environmental carcinogens being the most prevalent, but many people who do not smoke also develop lung cancer each year.
A New York native, Book believes her cancer is from exposure to either environmental radon or arsenic from rice. Hers is sensitive to targeted therapy drugs, but her cancer will mutate and find its way around, causing the disease to progress. Her survival rate for five years is 18%.
She’s been on first-line therapy for three years and has scans every three months. The last one showed a cancerous lymph node near her heart. She’s going to try radiation.
Book experienced the first symptom of her disease in August 2015, but wasn’t diagnosed until August 2016. She saw blood when she cleared her throat, so she saw an ear, nose and throat doctor. The physician found a throat infection but wanted to go a step further with an X-ray. That test showed a spot on her lung, leading to a CT. She was referred to a pulmonologist who did a bronchoscopy and the tests were negative for cancer.
“For about eight or nine months, I was having CTs, then I started getting really bad neck pain. I thought I had disc disease,” she said.
A lesion on her T4 bone in her neck was cancer. It turns out she did have lung cancer and it spread.
“I’ve been a lung cancer advocate so I can do something with my anxiety,” she said. “There’s a closed Facebook group, the EGFR Resisters, with 1,400 members. They’re major advocates for lung cancer.”
Book said funding is less for lung cancer because of its association with smoking.
“There’s a big stigma against smokers and lung cancer,” she said. “It’s like, you smoke, you deserve it. Nobody blames people for having diabetes or anything else. A lot of research needs to be done. We need all the help we can get in this fight.”
The Department of Defense is responsible for funding lung cancer research. For FY 2009 to 2018, more than $127 million was appropriated. For FY 2019, it’s $14 million.
“We need to push Congress to restore the original amount of $20 million, instead of $14 million, which was a result of cuts in 2010.
“I’d like people to try and help this cause and lobby their congresspeople for more attention to lung cancer. It is a crisis in the country. Breast cancer gets a lot of funding because people are very vocal and have lobbied for it. Lung cancer is like the poor relative. It has so much stigma attached to it.”