Non-smokers are not immune to lung cancer: Linda Rhodes

Posted by Samantha Powell on August 14th, 2013 |

News Headline: Non-smokers are not immune to lung cancer: Linda Rhodes

Date: 8/14/13

Outlet Full Name: Penn Live

Author Name: Dr. Linda Rhodes

Q: My father seems to think that he can ignore his symptoms of lung cancer, because he never smoked. Can you please let him know that’s just not the case?

A: The National Lung Cancer Partnership has a pretty succinct way of addressing the supposed non-smoker immunity to lung cancer: “If you have lungs, you can get lung cancer.” End of story. Every year, 16,000 to 24,000 Americans die of lung cancer even though they have never smoked. And according to the partnership, if “never smokers” who have lung cancer were a separate category, they would rank among the top 10 fatal cancers in the United States. Overall, lung cancer takes more lives than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined amassing 27 percent of all cancer deaths.

You didn’t mention which symptoms your dad is facing, but if he’s experiencing any of the “BREATHE” symptoms, he definitely needs to see his physician.

People with lung cancer may also report a loss of appetite, swelling in the neck and face, difficulty swallowing, and weight loss. The partnership has an easy way of remembering the symptoms by using the word BREATHE depicted in a bookmark.

If statistics and medical data don’t convince your father, then he should listen to 62-year-old Patrick Leer from Mechanicsburg who was diagnosed with Stage I lung cancer in December 2011 after an incidental find on a chest X-ray. A suspicious shadow turned out to be cancerous despite the fact he had no symptoms prior to his diagnosis.

Patrick underwent surgery to remove the cancerous nodule on his lung, and within three days, he was out of the hospital and celebrated cancer-free checkups for the next two and a half years. But in May, after collapsing during a routine checkup, he was given the heart wrenching diagnosis that the lung cancer had stealthily traveled to his brain. He now has Stage IV lung cancer.

Today, Patrick is on a mission to spread his message on lung cancer’s ability to attack anyone. Patrick would tell your father, “Listen to your body, know the symptoms and don’t ignore them. Don’t fixate on the smoker/non-smoker distinction. Smoking is not the sole reason you can get lung cancer. Believing this stigma kills.”

Patrick’s story is extraordinary. While he battles his cancer with chemotherapy, he continues to care for his wife who has multiple sclerosis, a disease she has had for 24 of their 28 years of marriage. He has been a caregiver to her ever since, pushing his wife’s wheelchair, taking her to doctor’s appointments and being at her side. Time spent with his wife is “cancer-free,” he notes, due to the dementia caused by her disease. She doesn’t remember that her dear husband has cancer.

Although Patrick may be undergoing chemotherapy treatment every few weeks, he’ll be participating in the upcoming Pennsylvania Lung Cancer Partnership’s, “Free to Breathe,” fundraising event. Patrick, a passionate and professional disc jockey, will host the musical entertainment and be accompanied by his 25-year-old daughter Megan whom he lovingly refers to as his “godsend and cancer coach.”

So, how about joining Patrick on Aug. 24 at the Pennsylvania Lung Cancer Partnership’s 4th annual “Free to Breathe” 5K run and 1 mile walk at the Carousel Pavilion City Island/Riverfront Park in Harrisburg. Registration begins at 7:30 am and the run/walk begins at 9:30 am. Festivities and prizes are all part of the fun for raising money to promote lung cancer research and a cure. The partnership’s mission is to decrease deaths due to lung cancer and help patients live longer and better, through research, awareness and advocacy. For more information on the event and the organization go to

And if you’d like to keep up with Patrick’s cancer journey and share some words of encouragement, check out his blog. Just be forewarned: he’ll be the one encouraging you with his unshakable spirit.

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