Crazed In the Kitchen: Women's Biggest Cancer Enemy--Not What You Might Think   

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Women's Biggest Cancer Enemy--Not What You Might Think

As you were probably aware, October was Breast Cancer Awareness month. It was impossible to miss; pink was everywhere. On social media, in the newspaper, on TV—I even saw our local firefighters wearing pink shirts while they cleaned their trucks recently. Breast cancer is a real threat to women, and increasing awareness, improving screening, and funding research of this disease should continue to be a priority.

But it shouldn’t be the ONLY priority, as far as women-killing cancers go. And it’s possible that it shouldn’t even be our biggest priority. Did you know that there is another cancer that kills roughly twice as many women each year as breast cancer?

It’s lung cancer.

In fact, lung cancer kills more women each year than breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers combined. And, 20 percent of its female victims—like Christopher Reeve’s wife, Dana—were never smokers. So why doesn’t lung cancer receive the attention that breast cancer does?

The main reason is that most people associate lung cancer with smoking and assume, in some way, that lung cancer victims are in part to blame for their disease. I admit, I felt this way for a long time. Until, that is, my mom was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer four years ago. Yes, she had been a smoker in her lifetime, though she wasn’t at the time of her diagnosis and hadn’t been for some time.

My mom and her 1st grandson. He was 7 months old when she died.
But the thing is, I had watched my mom try to quit smoking more than once, and I believed her when she told me that it was the hardest thing she had ever done. The truth is that nicotine—the substance in tobacco that makes smokers feel both relaxed AND alert simultaneously—is extremely addictive. (According to a 2010 Time magazine article, ex-heroin users have said that it’s harder to quit smoking than heroin.) Not only that, but between 1998 and 2004 tobacco companies increased the nicotine content of cigarettes by 10 percent. And, while they were making cigarettes MORE addicting, they were also aggressively targeting women in their advertising.

I just learned that November is lung cancer awareness month. Even now, almost four years after my mother’s death, I never knew that. I’m guessing that most people don’t know what lung cancer’s “color” is (white). And I’m guessing that most people don’t know it kills so many women each year. This needs to change. Lung cancer awareness should be on everyone’s minds in November, like breast cancer is in October.

But that’s not enough. The tobacco industry needs to be held accountable for the deadly effects its products have on women. And women of all ages—but especially teens and younger women, who are especially targeted by tobacco companies’ advertising—need to know that they are being preyed upon. Smokers who want to quit should be given the help that they need, rather than being expected to do it on their own, as many do. Economically speaking, our country needs to take further steps toward becoming independent of “Big Tobacco.” (I wish I had suggestions here, but I think I’d need another college degree to fully understand that!)

 My mom had no idea back in the ‘70s and ‘80s that smoking would keep her from knowing her grandkids. She had no idea that it would make her miss her only son’s wedding. She only knew that she felt powerless to stop, even though she wanted to. In her memory, I’ll be wearing a white ribbon this November. I hope, in time, that more people will wear them each November, as well. 

**UPDATED 11/11/12** On December 1, 2012, my 4-year-old son, Matthew, and I will be walking a 5K for lung cancer awareness in honor of my mom, his Grandma GG. If you'd like to donate to this important cause, please go here: 

Thank you!

This article was originally posted as my fifth weekly entry as a contestant in Blogger Idol. To see the judges' comments, read it again here. And be sure to follow me on facebook and Twitter to find out about the next round of Blogger Idol, coming up next Wednesday!


  1. I lost my uncle to lung cancer and he never smoked a cigarette. Yes, smoking does often lead to lung cancer, but this deadly disease attacks non-smokers too.

  2. So sorry about your uncle. The number of non-smokers getting this disease is rising. It deserves more research funding.

  3. You make such a good point about lung cancer.
    Often, we only concentrate on the things that get media coverage.
    Thanks for bringing something "new" into light.
    Well done

  4. I too am for making those tobacco companies responsible for the evils that they create. They should also ban smoking in more places so that it is easier for non-smokers to breathe and lessen the chance of 2nd hand or 3rd hand smoke.

  5. Absolutely. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about all the secondhand smoke I breathed as a kid. Scary.

  6. I used to be a heavy smoker, but the moment I learned that I was pregnant with my son, I kicked the habit and never looked back.
    My son is truly a blessing. :)

  7. Sometimes it is so scary to think about all of the different kinds of cancer. I was really surprised when I read how many non-smokers get lung cancer.

    Very timely piece with great info.

  8. I had no idea that lung cancer occurs so often apart from smoking. I'm so sorry about your mom. She sounds like a brave and wonderful person.

  9. Yes, I have heard this, and I know people that had lung cancer and they never smoked a day in there life! So sorry about your mom! thanks for letting us know about all this info! I will be sharing with other!

  10. Smoking kills people not just from Lung Cancer, but from strokes and fires. It is terrible. I am so sorry you lost your mom to Lung Cancer.Thank you for bringing this awareness out for November.

  11. Thanks, everyone. It IS scary. And, as Army of Moms said, lung cancer is not the only way smoking kills. There are actually a whole host of other cancers that are linked to smoking, including ones you might not have thought of like bladder cancer. Glad to hear a story of someone who was able to quit!

  12. My mom passed away in December... just a few days after her grandson turned one. She also had stage 4 lung cancer. She had been diagnosed just 7 months before, in June on her birthday. I know that what my family has gone through has been so hard, and your story is so similar to mine, it just makes me cry...
    This year I walked the Relay for her (we'd always walked it together, her and I)... about 2 laps in it actually for the first time sunk in as I realized just how many bags there were... how many people have just died from cancer in general. Needless to say I didn't get very far this year.
    Hopefully you and your family are holding in there.

  13. Thank you so much for your comment. It's taken me these four years to get to a point where I can feel like I can do something pro-active like participating in a 5K. I'm glad you posted this, because it made me realize I should be prepared for some strong emotions during the event. I hadn't really thought of that--I was just thinking about how my 4-year-old thinks we are RUNNING the whole thing. Ha ha. Nope.

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