For the first time I would watch a prime time show about lung cancer and about how prevalent and deadly it is. During the documentary lung cancer statistics were mentioned along with the fact that 80% of those diagnosed with lung cancer are non smokers, most of whom quit smoking decades ago. Never smokers can get lung cancer too and you only need lungs to get lung cancer.
This documentary raised national awareness about lung cancer and addressed the many misconceptions about the disease being simply a smokers disease. It showed viewers that there is a desperate need for more funding of research to find early detection tests and successful treatments. But at the heart of these facts and statistics was a woman fighting for her life; a family fighting for one more day with the person they love.
I titled this blog, "Walking Beside Valerie Harper" because that's exactly what it felt like when I was watching her story.
Keep in mind I've never met Valerie Harper and her television shows were before my time. But I know her. I know this lung cancer experience. I've walked this walk as a cancer survivor and as a caregiver who's parent had lung cancer that eventually metastasized to his brain. Watching her documentary I re-experienced what I went through with my own father who was diagnosed with extensive lung cancer in 2002. When I saw her with her daughter and listened as Christina described grieving what was happening to her mom, it felt like someone was squeezing my heart. I had felt those exact same feelings. When I saw the fear across her husband Tony's face, it was the same heart sick terrified look that had lived on my own mother's face during the entire time my father fought his lung cancer.
Whether you are a television star or a regular person, the fear in a lung cancer diagnosis is the same. The treatment options are very similar and too few. The emotional toll on the patient and their family will be huge. Facing death. It's something, eventually, we all have to do. It's simply heartbreaking. And Valerie Harper is doing it gracefully and honestly.
Her story was painful to watch. It brought up so many emotions for me and from a time that was simply devastating for my family. I cried all the way though it. The biggest difference in Valerie's story is that there are more people willing to listen about lung cancer today. There is an opportunity to raise funds for lung cancer research to make a real difference in patient outcomes and survivorship. There are more treatment options today than there was for my father 10 years ago and research is ongoing.. Thanks to funding from organizations like LUNGevity Foundation the research community is working very hard to find an early detection test and to find new genetic markers and targeted treatments that will stop lung cancer growth and give patients a fighting chance. I'm seeing so many more survivors today and more people living with lung cancer as a chronic disease for many years.
With each new step there is reason to hope.
And thousands like myself will be walking beside Valerie Harper and hoping that her survivorship is many years long.