Home » #LCSM Chat » Can we erase lung cancer stigma without mentioning “smoking”?

Can we erase lung cancer stigma without mentioning “smoking”?

Some people have indicated my previous post (Dear lung cancer patient who smoked) reinforces a division within the lung cancer community (those who smoked versus those who didn’t).  That wasn’t my intention.  In fact, it was a division I was trying to heal. If I offended anyone, I apologize.

Like any group of people, those of us in the lung cancer community are individuals.  We differ in many ways:  age, physical fitness, financial status, geographic location, family relationships, gender, sexual orientation, smoking history, nutritional choices, weight, desire for privacy.  Our close personal experience with lung cancer is the only thing we all have in common.

Lung cancer patients and advocates talk about the stigma of lung cancer (which is largely associated with smoking) because we and others we know have experienced it. It is real. If we don’t talk about the stigma, who else will?

One approach to erasing the stigma is to show the world the diversity among lung cancer patients. Somehow we need to show the public that lung cancer patients don’t fit one mold.  To do this, we have to reveal our differences. The perception of HIV patients changed in part because patients with different personal characteristics spoke out and showed the world the diversity among HIV patients.

The fact that we talk about our differences doesn’t imply any judgment or preferred categories among us, although some people will always attempt to pigeonhole people in that manner.  We can acknowledge our differences and still accept each other.  Attempting to show the diversity within the lung cancer community in no way implies any judgment that some personal characteristics or habits are “better” than others. But somehow, no matter how carefully phrased, discussions about stigma that involve the word “smoking” seem to make some people feel even more stigmatized.

If you have ideas how we can demonstrate the diversity within the lung cancer community without mentioning the word “smoking,” I’d love to hear them.  Please share them in the comments section here, in our upcoming February 13 #LCSM tweetchat, or in an email to me at jfreeman.wa at gmail.com.

7 thoughts on “Can we erase lung cancer stigma without mentioning “smoking”?

  1. The many faces of lung cancer. Start from the very young to the very old.
    show factory smoke stacks, exhaust fumes, viet nam(agent orange)cigarettes etc Then stress the fact that ANYONE with lungs can get lc


  2. I’m not sure what the answer is. But thinking back to something like breast cancer, it took people getting out and talking about it; working to fund research. I think when a celebrity is involved, it changes things, whether it’s AIDS, breast cancer, testicular cancer, or lung cancer. Does smoking even have to be mentioned? Or any other cause?


  3. Just my two cents but I’m not sure we can, or should, take smoking out of the conversation.

    For two reasons:
    1. I believe a tobacco-free reality is a better environment overall for ALL of us. As a child the link to lung cancer kept me from ever trying a cigarette (or anything else that was labeled ‘cancer-causing’ – look how well THAT worked out! *grin*);
    2. We MUST address the prevalent inaccuracies in people’s thinking that lung cancer is only a smoker’s disease.

    Simply put, I believe we have to address the misnomer in people’s heads that link a non-smoking lifestyle to freedom from lung cancer. Smoking increases risk – this is a reality. So are air pollution, genetic predisposition and perhaps a whole host of other things we are not even aware of yet. When people begin to feel that they have more in common, the link tends to breed empathy.

    An increase in empathy leads to a decrease in stigma.

    Honestly, I believe the reality that we need to promote is risk reduction is fantastic HOWEVER, if you have lungs, you are at risk for lung cancer. Period. So we’d all damn well pay attention because that’s the only way we’re going to get to improved treatments, improved outcomes, a cure and quite possibly a reality of prevention.


  4. I don’t know the answer to this, but it is a similar situation amongst diabetics. The type 1’s have an autoimmune disease that made their pancreas stop functioning. The type 2’s are more often (although not always) linked to poor eating and obesity which results in insulin resistance. The effects of diabetes are significant no matter which type you have, but there is a hierarchy of those who “caused” their diabetes and those who came by it genetically. The diabetic community struggles with this and it is divisive when it comes to funding, treatment, and cures.


  5. Pingback: #LCSM Chat 13-Feb-2014: “Brainstorming: How Do We Erase the Stigma of Lung Cancer?” | #LCSM

  6. Make sure people know to get checked also. I only had one episode of not being able to get a deep breath. It happened on a Sunday morning and lasted for about 2 hours and then cleared. If I would of ignored it I would not be here today. I had stage 3a at that point. If my pulmonary Dr did not order and e-ray and check it out I would be dead today. I am not cancer free because I paid attention to my body. It happened 10 months before and the x-ray showed nothing. I am glad I did not ignore it the second time and think that last time was nothing and blow it off. God was watching me.


  7. Pingback: #LCSM Chat Topic for 12/3: “The Lung Cancer Advocacy Dilemma: Bridging the Smoking History Divide.” | #LCSM

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