My Wife Has Lung Cancer. Read Her Story

Alamar, Havana, Cuba, March 2013Nothing in life prepared me for the moment when the doctor told me my wife Lisa had lung cancer. We knew something was wrong with her; she had a persistent cough for weeks that the doctors couldn’t fix. But lung cancer? Lisa is only 41 years old, in otherwise excellent health, a vegetarian with a healthy diet, and a fitness instructor who taught demanding indoor cycling and pilates courses. And perhaps most importantly, Lisa never smoked or lived with smokers. How could she have lung cancer?

We’ve since learned that tens of thousands of Americans who never smoked, including a troubling number of young and healthy women, get lung cancer every year. Lung cancer kills more Americans than breast, prostate and colon cancers COMBINED, and the death toll for never-smoked lung cancer victims–about 30,000 Americans each year–is a major chunk of overall cancer deaths. However, you probably don’t hear much about these victims. Lung cancer is a ruthless and efficient killer. It’s hard to detect, so it’s typically diagnosed at a late stage, and it easily metastasizes, especially to the brain. As a result, lung cancer victims, including those who never smoked, often die before they can share their stories to the world.

This situation is changing. Blogging technology enables lung cancer victims to tell their stories first-hand, and recent improvements in treatment are helping lung cancer victims live a little longer–perhaps long enough to tell their stories.

As part of this broader phenomenon, Lisa has launched a blog, “Every Breath I Take.” Please check it out. Not only will the blog keep you informed about Lisa’s situation, but we hope it will give a voice to the many thousands of Americans dying each year from this silent killer. Emails were a big part of how Lisa and I communicated at the beginning of our relationship, and I fell in love with her in part because of her witty and conversational writing style. I’m glad that many of you will get to see that special side of her.

I understand that a blog post like this will likely engender many sympathetic emails and offers of help. We are grateful for the overwhelming support we’ve received. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but this outpouring has changed my worldview. It’s easy to be cynical about the human condition, but I’ve now experienced the other side: many people–close family members and virtual strangers–have gone out of their way to show us extraordinary kindness and thoughtfulness. It’s taught me a lot about the value of “paying it forward,” a lesson I hope to use extensively for the rest of my life.

If you are motivated to help out, here are my two requests of ways you can be most helpful:

1) I’d be grateful for your understanding if my email responses are short or curt and for my sporadic blogging. Lisa was the principal childcare provider, and I’ve taken over that responsibility for now. We are still working on longer-term childcare arrangements. Until we resolve that, my time is stretched very thin.

2) Please spread the word about Lisa’s blog and the reality that lung cancer isn’t just a “smoker’s disease.” Until we get past the “blame the victim” narrative, we won’t fully understand the disease and the victims who have it, nor will we make optimal investments in preventing and treating it.