New Market event to shine light on lung cancer

By Josette Keelor

The organizer of a cancer awareness event in New Market at 7 p.m. Thursday wants to banish stereotypes about lung cancer.

Lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer and the least funded, said Josette Miller of New Market.

Usually affecting older people, she said it’s most known for afflicting smokers, but it’s not as preventable as people think. Healthy people can still get lung cancer, she said.

“If you have lungs, you’re at risk,” said Miller.

This year’s event at Woods Chapel Independent Bible Church, 58 Splinter Lane, New Market, will be one of 200 nationwide events that day through the Lung Cancer Alliance’s awareness campaign, Shine a Light on Lung Cancer.

A former smoker and daughter of a former smoker, Miller said there’s a reason Americans think of cigarette smoke when they think of lung cancer.

“Obviously smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer,” she said. “Don’t smoke.”

However, from what she’s seen and heard, even those who quit smoking decades earlier and those who never smoked at all are susceptible.

Contributing factors also include second-hand smoke, radon poisoning and working with chemicals, she said.

The Shine A Light campaign sometimes includes other countries and this year has included one city in Australia, according to Kristen McAvoy, events and volunteers coordinator for the organization based in Washington, D.C.

She said the organization’s September event — the Sixth Annual National Survivor Summit in Washington — attracted lung cancer survivors from around the country as well as state and national senators to discuss how to promote awareness.

“It’s really important for all of those representatives to see the faces of lung cancer,” McAvoy said in a phone interview Monday. “I do think it was a success.”

Miller, who attended the summit, said she met with survivors, but more often family members of those suffering from or taken by the illness.

Unlike with other more treatable forms of cancer, she said, “You just don’t have the survivors to tell the story.”

Miller became involved with the Shine A Light effort after her mother Theresa “Terri” Knapp of Lacey Springs was diagnosed with lung cancer in May 2013.

Knapp’s symptoms started in April 2012, but her doctors in Broadway didn’t recognize her fatigue and difficulty walking as indicative of lung cancer. They told her to take vitamins and walk more often, Miller remembered.

“This went on for 13 months,” Miller said. “She smoked for 43 years. [Her doctor] did no testing.”

Knapp, now 63, returned to the doctor the following spring when she started wheezing, Miller remembered. One of her lungs had collapsed from the size of her tumor, and later during treatment she experienced kidney failure and then a stroke. Though Knapp’s lung re-inflated with chemotherapy and the tumor decreased a little, Miller said the tumor wasn’t removed because the cancer wasn’t treatable.

“With lung cancer, when it’s typically found, it spreads so quickly. It spread to her adrenal glands and her lymph nodes,” Miller said. “She’s now on hospice care, and it’s in her brain now.”

Her mother’s response to being diagnosed was shame and regret after years of smoking, but Miller has tried reassuring her that smoking might not have been the main contributing factor.

Between the ages of 55 to 80, she said, those who have smoked a pack of cigarettes every day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years are at high risk and, even if symptom-free, should be tested for cancer.

Miller also recommended testing for other individuals who have a family history of lung cancer or have other reasons to believe they might be at risk.

“They tell you, women when you hit 40, get that mammogram; men, you’re 50, get that colonoscopy. … [Those tests are] very invasive, very costly,” she said. “With a low-dose CT scan, they’re painless. … and it can pick up the size of a pea tumor.”

Last year’s Shine a Light event in New Market attracted about 25 to 30 survivors, family members and those just offering moral support. This year, Miller has planned for a larger event with Mayor Douglas Bradley and Relay for Life specialist Adam Ford of Harrisonburg as keynote speakers.

Already planning for next year’s event, Miller said she plans to hold a 5K in Mount Jackson.

“Our main focus is to end this stigma,” she said.

To sign up for the event or for more information, call 540-481-0459 or visit http://tiny.cc/opp2ox.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com