Woman offers new take on lung cancer

Posted

Monday April 25, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The link between cigarettes and lung cancer helped launch the anti-smoking movement, but according to one local woman, it also spurred a stigma around those who have the often deadly disease -- tobacco users or not -- and she is working on the Web to turn that attitude around.

"People don't want to talk about lung cancer because it's the taboo cancer," said Christine Dwyer of Becket. "Everyone considers it the smoker's cancer, and it isn't."

The founder of www.cancergrief.com and, more recently, a site, blog and Facebook page under the header "Make Some Noise for Lung Cancer Awareness," Dwyer, 45, watched a step-grandfather, step-father and close friend die from lung cancer -- some smokers, some not. Now, she uses online tools to spread the word that not everyone with lung cancer used tobacco -- and even those that did should not be made to believe that they deserve their illness.

"My stepfather smoked like a chimney and died at 72. [My friend] Brad never touched a cigarette in his life and he died at 31," Dwyer said. "Lung cancer doesn't discriminate."

Dwyer has met people who are ashamed to tell others about their disease, fearing they'd be implicitly blamed with the question, "Well, were you a smoker?"

"That's really a rude question, and it's very offensive in the lung cancer community," Dwyer said. "Smoking puts you at risk, and no one is going to argue that fact, but the fact is there are so many chemicals in the air and water that anybody who breathes is at risk."

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More people in the U.S. die from lung cancer than from any other type, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2007, more than 200,000 people were diagnosed with the disease and almost 160,000 died because of it.

Dwyer's Facebook group has more than 2,400 members and several websites she created are well-trafficked, she said. The sites are a compilation of news and medical updates about lung cancer; Dwyer pointed out that she's careful not to dispense medical advice.

Online medical resources can sometimes add to the confusion of a new diagnosis, said Kathy Hart, director of care navigation at Berkshire Medical Center, who said she meets many people who feel swamped by the variety of suggestions or proclamations made about their disease on the Web.

"There's so much information out there that sometimes it can be misleading or not applied to the patient, and can get the patient into an overwhelming state very quickly," she said.

But sites like "Make Noise for Lung Cancer Awareness," which Dwyer tries to be less about prescription and more about emotional support, can offer solace to people feeling isolated by their new illness.

Diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008, Barbara LeRiche, 44, of Guilford, Conn., said Dwyer's online community was a way not to feel alone when she started her treatments.

"You hear every time about breast cancer, but you don't hear about people with lung cancer," LeRiche said. "So it's just nice to have somebody to be able to talk to, and somebody to be online, and just to have that support and know that you're not going through with it by yourself."

To reach Amanda Korman:
akorman@berkshireeagle.com
(413) 496-6243


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