Posted by: Teri Simon | 2012/10/07

What Month Is It?

ribbonsHello, my friends.  I have been enjoying this week with my oldest daughter, Emily, home for a fall break from school, and a quick visit from my sister, Tami.  It’s good to have these kinds of happy things happen during the same week you get chemo and said chemo makes you feel lousy for the remainder of the week (what to do about my lack of appetite? my constant state of tired? the edge of nausea?).  Happy thing, too, was getting to meet the amazing Katie Brown from LUNGevity live and in person here in Nashville, where she was manning the LUNGevity exhibit at the NCONN conference at the Opryland Hotel.  (LUNGevity head, Andrea Ferris, was there, too!)  They even brought me my t-shirt from the Hope Summit last May, which I was not well enough to attend.  How cool is that?  National Lung Cancer Partnership last month, LUNGevity this month, Gilda’s Club Nashville all the time!  Very cool indeed!
But I’m getting sidetracked and I haven’t even gotten started on today’s blog yet.  No doubt you’re aware that some group of people somewhere in the world got together and assigned specific diseases ribbon colors and months during which we should be aware of them.  Pretty much everyone knows, for example, that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  You kind of can’t miss it for all the pink mixed in with the orange and black of Halloween, mixed in with the red and green of Christmas, which seems to get advertised earlier and earlier each year.  Did you also know that October is Bullying Prevention Month?  Liver Cancer Awareness Month?  Eye Injury Prevention Month?  Down Syndrome Awareness Month?  Well, it is.  There’s a lot of stuff to be aware of in October.  Even more to be aware of in May, which is Arthritis, Brain Cancer, Hepatitis, Better Hearing and Speech, Lupus, Melanoma and Skin Cancer, Mental Health, Celiac Disease, Asthma and Allergy, High Blood Pressure Education, Osteoporosis, and Youth Traffic Safety Awareness Month.

Next month, November, is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, Stomach Cancer Awareness Month, COPD Awareness Month, Diabetes Awareness Month, and, ironically enough from my perspective, Hospice and Palliative Care Awareness Month.  And as I deal with the onslaught of pink (mixed in with the orange, black, green, and red), I find myself struggling once again with what has come to be known as Pink Fatigue, and with a curiosity.  The Fatigue I struggle with because a LOT of my friends (far too many if you ask me) have or have had breast cancer, and I would NEVER EVER IN A MILLION YEARS want to disrespect them in any way.  Cancer sucks, regardless of what kind you have, but it’s tough on a lung cancer patient to know that pretty much everyone knows October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and pretty much nobody outside of a lung cancer patient’s circle knows that November is their month.  It’s kind of like being reminded repeatedly that everybody likes boobs, but nobody gives a thought to other vital body parts or organs until and unless they are directly affected by a disease.

As for my curiosity, I wonder almost all the time if people, when they tell others that they have any other kind of cancer than lung cancer, get asked what pretty much ALL lung cancer patients get asked pretty much by EVERYbody, pretty much ALL the time:  “are/were you a smoker?”  I try to think how that conversation goes with other cancers:

Patient:  I have colon/breast/kidney/stomach/brain/pancreatic/skin/cervical/anyotherkindof cancer.
Friend:  Wow.  That’s terrible. -OR- Yuck.  I’m so sorry. – OR- That’s really unfortunate.  (Does “are/were you a smoker?” fit in here? Nope.)

Want some stats on smoking and diseases?  Well, like it or not, you’re gonna get some, because I looked ’em up!  Here ya go:

Information from the National Cancer Institute:

In the United States, smoking-related illnesses accounted for an estimated 443,000 deaths each year between 2000 and 2004.[1] On average, these deaths occur 12 years earlier than would be expected, so the aggregate annual loss exceeds 5 million life-years.[2] These deaths are primarily due to smoking’s role as a major cause of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and chronic lung diseases. The known adverse health effects also include other respiratory diseases and symptoms, nuclear cataract, hip fractures, reduced female fertility, and diminished health status. Maternal smoking during pregnancy is associated with fetal growth restriction, low birth weight, and complications of pregnancy.[3] It has been estimated that at least 30% of cancer deaths and 20% of all premature deaths in the United States are attributable to smoking.[1]

Tobacco products are the single, major avoidable cause of cancer, causing more than 155,000 deaths among smokers in the United States annually due to various cancers.[4] The majority of cancers of the lung, trachea, bronchus, larynx, pharynx, oral cavity, nasal cavity, and esophagus are attributable to tobacco products, particularly cigarettes. Smoking is also causally associated with cancers of the pancreas, kidney, bladder, stomach, and cervix and with myeloid leukemia.[3,5]

From the Cleveland Clinic:

Smoking And Your Health

Most people associate cigarette smoking with breathing problems and lung cancer. But smoking is also a major cause of cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease.

Smoking: the No. 1 cause of preventable disease and death

Smoking and tobacco use are significant risk factors for a variety of chronic disorders. According to the American Heart Association, cigarette smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States, accounting for 440,000 of the more than 2.4 million annual deaths.

What’s the link between smoking and cardiovascular disease?

Smoking is a major cause of atherosclerosis — a buildup of fatty substances in the arteries. Atherosclerosis occurs when the normal lining of the arteries deteriorates, the walls of the arteries thicken and deposits of fat and plaque block the flow of blood through the arteries. In coronary artery disease, the arteries that supply blood to the heart become severely narrowed, decreasing the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the heart, especially during times of increased activity. Extra strain on the heart may result in chest pain (angina pectoris) and other symptoms. When one or more of the coronary arteries are completely blocked, a heart attack (injury to the heart muscle) may occur.

In peripheral artery disease, atherosclerosis affects the arteries that carry blood to the arms and legs. As a result, the patient may experience painful cramping of the leg muscles when walking (a condition called intermittent claudication). Peripheral artery disease also increases the risk of stroke.

What’s the link between smoking and heart attack?

A person’s risk of heart attack greatly increases with the number of cigarettes he or she smokes. There is no safe amount of smoking. Smokers continue to increase their risk of heart attack the longer they smoke. People who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day have more than twice the risk of heart attack than nonsmokers.

What’s the link between smoking and oral contraceptives?

Women who smoke and also use oral contraceptives (birth control pills) increase several times their risk of coronary and peripheral artery diseases, heart attack and stroke, compared with nonsmoking women who use oral contraceptives.

What other medical conditions are linked with smoking?

Cigarettes have multiple poisons, including addictive nicotine, carbon monoxide, “tars” and hydrogen cyanide. There are 4,000 other chemicals of varying toxicity, including 43 known carcinogens.

Smoking causes:

  • Decreased oxygen to the heart and to other tissues in the body
  • Decreased exercise tolerance
  • Decreased HDL (good) cholesterol
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Damage to cells that line coronary arteries and other blood vessels
  • Increased risk of developing coronary artery disease and heart attack
  • Increased risk of developing peripheral artery disease and stroke
  • Increased risk of developing lung cancer, throat cancer, chronic asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema
  • Increased risk of developing diabetes
  • Increased risk of developing a variety of other conditions including gum disease and ulcers
  • Increase tendency for blood clotting
  • Increased risk of recurrent coronary artery disease after bypass surgery
  • Increased risk of becoming sick (especially among children: respiratory infections are more common among children exposed to second-hand smoke)

So smoking is bad, for lots of reasons.  You shouldn’t smoke.  And if you do smoke, you should look into quitting (and becoming part of the multi-million dollar stop smoking industry).  But ya know, if you’re going to ask a lung cancer patient if s/he smoked, you should also ask every other person with a disease or type of cancer the same question.  It seems only fair. And if you know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it might be nice if you knew a couple other Awareness Months, too, you know what I mean?

So here’s my pitch for the up-coming November is Lung  Cancer Awareness Month:

If you’re in the Nashville area, on November 13th, the newly formed Tennessee Chapter of the Lung Cancer Alliance will hold Shine A Light On Lung Cancer Nashville. 

On November 17th, you can participate in the Breathe Hope Nashville 5K run at Centennial Park, a LUNGevity Foundation event hosted by I Run For The Party.  Click here to learn about registering or donating.  If I’m feeling good, and I plan on feeling good people, look for me at these events!

And I apologize if I didn’t mention a disease or type of cancer you’re (unfortunately) associated with.  It holds no less regard or concern from me, I promise you, and I hold you in my prayers and concerns!

I wish you a week of heightened awareness, which, you know, isn’t a bad thing no matter how you look at the world!

Peace to you,

Teri, the more aware Flying Elephant



  1. You rock, Ronnie!

  2. Judith- so sorry for your losses!

  3. Signed up for the run 🙂

  4. You’re absolutely right, on all counts.

    Ironically, I’m facing another brand of embarrassment or worse, despite Pink Month: airport security. If our coming trip is like others, I’ll either be stopped because of profiling (flat chest, inconsistent with my otherwise feminine appearance; TSA cares not a whit how artfully my shawl is draped) OR patted down because my “cushions” somehow look suspicious to the screening device. Not fun.

    That said, I’m stunned and sad today because a former employer/mentor and friend, from many decades ago, died Saturday from pancreatic cancer. I knew she had cancer, but not what kind. She was such a force in San Diego media; we shared quite a heyday.

    Hope you have a good, in every way, week…

  5. I really do love you, Tina! What a cool idea!

  6. I believe Susan G Koman’s family and friends is what started the breast cancer awareness. So just maybe, it will be Teri, the Flying Elephant’s family and friends who will put Lung Cancer on the map! Your friend, the one boob wonder, Tina D.


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