November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month in Massachusetts and for the third year in a row, Boston will mark this event with the Shine a Light on Lung Cancer candlelight vigil at the Prudential Center in Boston on Nov. 4.
Glowsticks, rather than candles, will be lit and the Prudential Tower will be illuminated a brilliant shade of blue to promote awareness about the disease that kills more Americans than any other type of cancer each year and over 5,000 people in the state of Massachusetts alone. Lung cancer takes nearly twice as many women’s lives as breast cancer and kills more people than breast, prostate and ovarian and kidney cancers combined.
Two Charlestown residents affected by lung cancer, Deidre Malloy and Julia Gaynor have been trying to change those grim statistics by working with the Lung Cancer Alliance to produce the Shine a Light on Lung Cancer Vigil. The vigil includes speeches from survivors and loved ones and uses the public forum to try to shine a light on a disease that has been mostly ignored – even though it is the deadliest of all cancers.
Largely thought of as a smoker’s disease, recent studies show that this is not always the case. In fact, one in every five women diagnosed with lung cancer never smoked, and 60% people diagnosed either never smoked or quit smoking, usually decades ago. Unfortunately, because of the smoking stigma, lung cancer receives just a fraction of the federal funding as other leading cancers, yet it kills over 160,000 people every year.
Deidre Malloy, a Charlestown Resident since 1974, is an 8-year lung cancer survivor. A smoker at the time of diagnosis, her doctor wouldn’t do a scan unless she quit smoking first. “I decided not to wait and I went to an ENT Dr. at Mass Eye and Ear who found that I had a stage 3B lung cancer,” she says. Most people don’t survive lung cancer, especially stages 3 and 4, but Deidre had an incredible surgeon at MGH and she is here to tell her story 8 years later. “Sadly, many people think that because I smoked, I somehow deserve to die from lung cancer. The truth is, no one deserves to get lung cancer and that is why I work to promote awareness of this disease, for myself and others who aren’t as lucky as me.”
The vigil at the Prudential Center is a place for survivors and family members to gather to remember loved ones they have lost and honor those who are still living with this disease. There will be speeches from survivors and doctors as well as representatives from MGH and Dana Farber, two of the event’s sponsors. There’s a slideshow with pictures of the “faces of lung cancer” and a very moving reading, where the names of hundreds of loved ones and survivors will be read aloud, one by one. There will also be opportunities to volunteer and help, either by running a road race, calling your state rep, going to Washington, or simply telling your story.
Julia Gaynor, a Charlestown resident and member of the vigil’s planning committee, also has a personal connection to lung cancer. “I lost my mom two years ago,” says the 36 year-old Concord Street resident. “She was only 58 and died three months after being diagnosed. According to her primary care physician, she was in otherwise “perfect health.” But because there’s no screening for lung cancer, by the time they found it, it was stage 4 and there was virtually nothing they could do.”
Lung cancer has no symptoms, so most people don’t know they have it until it’s too late. In fact 85% of people diagnosed with lung cancer discover it when it’s already advanced, at stages 3 or 4. After losing her mother to lung cancer in 2007, Julia moved from Los Angeles to Charlestown where she has lived since 2008. “There’s hardly a family I’ve met in this town who isn’t affected by this disease. The vigil is a place for those affected by lung cancer to come together and say “We’re not going to he silent any longer. This disease needs more funding!”
Deidre knows a thing or two about families and lung cancer. There’s been scant research into the hereditary aspect of lung cancer, but genetic connections are becoming more clear to scientists every day. Deidre’s family knows it first hand. “My grandfather, father, sister and four cousins all have had lung cancer. Only three of us are still alive,” she says.
“I sometimes wonder why it is that I survived this terrible disease when so many don’t,” muses Deidre. “There are lots of good reasons. Great medical and surgical care at MGH, my own desire to be proactive and push beyond the recommendations of my primary care doctor, and luck. Irish Luck perhaps?”
The Shine a Light on Lung Cancer Vigil is a chance to show Boston that lung cancer patients need more than just luck to stay alive. They need more awareness, more funding, and more compassion.
If you would like to attend, the event is free to the public and being held at the Prudential Center on Thursday Nov. 4 at 7:30p.m. Doors open at 7pm. If you would like to submit a name to be read in the reading of names or a photo for the “faces of lung cancer” slideshow that will be shown at the event, please email [email protected]. For more information, please visit www.lungcanceralliance.org/massachusetts.