Lung Cancer Awareness Month: One patient shares her story
BATON ROUGE - Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Each year, about 218,500 people in the United States are told they have lung cancer, and about 142,000 people die from the disease.
In hopes of shedding light on the illness and potential treatments, November has become internationally recognized as Lung Cancer Awareness Month of 2021.
Though nearly nine out of ten lung cancers are caused by smoking cigarettes, not all cases of the illness can be traced back to smoking or even to exposure to secondhand smoke.
Jacy Miller, for example, was the 44-year-old owner of a Pilates studio and a non-smoker when she was diagnosed with lung cancer.
Miller says it all started when she went to see a doctor for pain and the doctor, thinking she'd pulled a muscle, advised that she take muscle relaxers.
Still in pain, she saw an Urgent Care doctor who ordered a test and then sent her to an Emergency Room, where healthcare professionals discovered that her right lung was 60 percent filled with fluid.
At that point, Miller was admitted to the hospital and tested for cancer.
The day after Christmas, Miller got the results back and learned that she had stage 4 lung cancer.
Miller told WBRZ, "You dont have to be a smoker to have lung cancer. All you have to have is a set of lungs to get lung cancer. But when it comes to the stigma, usually the first thing I hear is did you smoke? And Im like no I did not. And then they say well, you must've been around secondhand smoke or chemicals. And no, I did not. I say back to them, would you say that to someone who has breast cancer, ovarian cancer, liver cancer? No other cancer that is around would you say that to."
The illness shifted the direction of Miller's life. She closed her pilates studio and, with the support of her devoted family, focused on fighting the disease.
Doctors put her on a targeted drug, and she continued her treatments.
But after some time, she noticed new symptoms.
"I was looking in the mirror," Miller told WBRZ, "and I started seeing my face doing some weird things. So I was like, 'that's new, that's weird.' And it wouldn't stop for about 30, 40 min. Then it finally stopped and would start once an hour for about 2-3 minutes and it's still been doing it. The last scans I got just a month ago, I did have 1 or 2 small spots on my brain. That was the first time that it was on my brain."
Now 47 years of age, Miller's cancer has spread and she says it's likely she has close to six months left.
Despite this prognosis, Miller says she's determined to enjoy the bright spots in life, and right now, there are a number of positive things that have her focus.
"Cancer is very rarely brought up during those times," Miller says. "My sister is about to get married, my son is graduating from high school. Other things are going on."
You can follow Jacy's experience via her Facebook Page, Jacy's Journey.
During Lung Cancer Awareness Month, advocates are encouraging people to get screened and to support those who've been diagnosed with the illness.
Those interested can participate in walks and campaigns to raise awareness about lung cancer and lung cancer research.
New treatments are helping some lung cancer survivors live longer, and more research can help even more patients.
Funding for lung cancer research at the National Institutes of Health increased by 101 percent from FY2013 to FY2019, but increased and sustained funding is still needed to defeat the disease, according to the American Lung Association.
Click here for more information about lung cancer screening.