Losing my mom to lung cancer & the mission ahead

October 31, 2011 7:40:40 PM PDT
November has been designated National Lung Cancer Awareness Month and Action News is beginning a very special series on this disease which is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in the country.

My mom, Hwang Joung Kim Hanm, was just 67-years-old when she passed away in October of 2009, just 11 months before my husband and I got married.

She and Dennis did get a chance to meet, though. Three weeks before Mom left this world, Dennis and I flew to Korea for a visit. Thank God for that trip.

My Mom was not a smoker but she died from lung cancer.

Lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer. It kills more people every year than breast, prostate, and colon cancers combined.

Yet it is the least funded disease.

Lung cancer has a stigma that it's only a smoker's disease.

But Americans with no smoking history make up about 15-percent of new cases, that's about 30,000 people a year.

27-year-old Will Marris went to the doctor because of a chronic, persistent cough.

After a series of tests, he and his wife Nicole received the shocking diagnosis.

This lifelong athlete and health buff who'd never smoked had lung cancer.

"I wasn't emotional at first because I was more stunned than anything," Will said.

Like many newly diagnosed lung cancer patients, Will was told his disease was advanced, Stage 4. He had a softball-sized tumor in his left lung and a number of smaller nodes in his right lung.

"I felt like they were just telling me I'm going to lose my husband in a couple months," Nicole said.

But that was 15 months ago.

Immediate chemotherapy every three weeks shrunk the tumor to the size of a baseball.

But Will's latest tests have shown a tiny bit of growth. So this new father has just been approved for a new targeted therapy drug that the couple hopes will give him more time.

"If we could target Will's mutation in the future, he could watch Aiden grow up. We're still so close. It's just they don't have enough funding," Nicole said.

Will and Nicole blame that lack of research funding on the stigma that lung cancer is only a smoker's disease.

"The first thing you get asked when someone find out you have lung cancer is 'do you smoke' and that's the most degrading thing you've ever heard," Will said.

"You know it just breaks my heart because he didn't do anything to deserve it. And even if he did, he still deserves the same amount of compassion that everyone else does," Nicole said.

Will, Nicole and I hope you'll join us in our fight against lung cancer next Sunday, November 6th at the 6th Annual Free to Breathe Lung Cancer 5-K. All proceeds will benefit the Pennsylvania Lung Cancer Partnership.

More information is below and on my Facebook page. We hope you'll support our teams or put together your own.

And this week leading up Free to Breathe, tune in for a series of stories about lung cancer:

The second story focuses on the risk factors and symptoms of lung cancer.

The third story will air Tuesday on Action News at 5:30 p.m. This will focus on newest treatments and targeted therapies.

On Thursday on Action News at 11, Ali Gorman will report on the future of research, looking at infrared technology now being used in dogs with lung, breast and soft tissue carcinomas at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

The final story of the series will air on Friday on Action News at 11. Support and advocacy will be the focus.

Links: Free To Breathe
Pennsylvania Lung Cancer Partnership
8th Annual Heather Saler Lung Cancer Walk


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