It’s an unusually warm day for Charlotte in October, but these five women seem too busy having fun to notice the heat. There’s Joy Divine, Angie Madigan, Linda Blum, Paige Black and Doris Castevens. They’ve never met before, yet their conversation is easy and their laughter is, too. They talk about their families: parents, kids, grandkids. They talk about their hobbies: yoga, golf, Corvette racing. But then the laughter slows and they talk about what they have in common, what brought them together today: they’re all women with Stage IV lung cancer who have never smoked.
Their diagnoses surprised them, as they would surprise most others who don’t associate lung cancer with active, non-smoking women. Lung cancer is largely viewed as a disease for older, inactive men who have smoked all of their lives. These five women represent the reality: lung cancer can strike anyone of any age and gender, whether they smoked or not.
Lung cancer still has no cure. It is cancer’s top killer for men and women, and more people in the United States die of lung cancer than from breast, prostate, colon, liver, kidney and melanoma cancers combined. Regardless of smoking history, one in 17 women will develop lung cancer in her lifetime, as will one in 14 men. But until awareness increases, the facts of lung cancer remain misunderstood, its risks underestimated, and its patients fighting stigmas along with their disease.