Tobacco Use Not Required

Carol McHale, a lifelong nonsmoker, never dreamed she'd be diagnosed with lung cancer. Now she and her husband have a new perspective on the importance of lung cancer research.

>> An active retiree living in Florida, Carol McHale attributed the pain in her hip to sciatica.

Warren and Carol McHale
But a visit to a Cleveland Clinic orthopaedic physician quickly revealed the cause: lung cancer that had metastasized to her hip bone.

"It was unbelievable at first,” says Carol. “I was numb to it. I didn’t realize the enormity of the diagnosis at the time.”

Carol always is quick to say she has “nonsmoker’s lung cancer,” acknowledging the stigma attached to lung cancer and the perception that it only happens to people who smoke.

“I’m being treated with chemotherapy for lung cancer, but I have no lung cancer symptoms,” she says. “No cough, no shortness of breath, nothing. But I have chemo every three weeks — and will forever — to control the tumors in my lungs.”

As many as 15,000 Americans die each year from lung cancer — even though they never smoked. If lung cancer in nonsmokers had its own category, it would be among the top 10 fatal cancers in the country. Unfortunately, the perception that patients contributed to their own illness by smoking harms both smokers and nonsmokers with lung cancer — and makes it all the more challenging to raise funding for lung cancer research.

A New Perspective

>> Carol and her husband, Warren, are longtime philanthropic supporters of Cleveland Clinic. Before Carol’s lung cancer diagnosis, they generously gave to cardiology programs. Now, they focus on funding lung cancer research, an area in dire need of support. Even though four times as many Americans die of lung cancer than breast cancer each year, funding for lung cancer research lags far behind that of breast, prostate and colorectal cancers.

“Despite this lack of funding, we've made significant advances in our understanding of the biology of lung cancer in recent years,” says James Stevenson, MD, Carol’s oncologist at Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute. “The key to success against this disease will lie in quickly bringing these breakthroughs to patients.”

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