LCA Board Member, Deborah Morosini, MD, Featured In CURE Summer Issue
A Hole in the World:
Dana Reeve's death revealed the other face of lung cancer.
By Deborah Morosini, MD
In early March 2006, Dana Reeve’s death stunned the
world. We were numbed and saddened. Dana died from lung cancer, days
before her 45th birthday, and only months after her diagnosis. The
individual narrative is compelling.
Dana Reeve is my sister. My sister married Superman.
In 1995, a riding accident left her husband a vent-dependent
quadriplegic. Superman paralyzed. And so on.
We held our collective breath. We cheered them on—amazed
at their courage and their grace. Together they changed the landscape
of paralysis and spinal cord injury, and their legacy continues today
through the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.
During her short life, Dana was revered as a caregiver
and a patient advocate. Months before her diagnosis of stage 4 lung
cancer, she was honored by the American Cancer Society as its “Mother of
After her husband’s death in 2004, Dana strove to find a
new balance—devoting her energy to their young son, Will, as well as to
supporting the causes that she and Christopher had embarked on
together. She focused on writing her autobiography and reviving her
career as a singer. This is where the individual narrative of my
broccoli-loving, blueberry-devouring, non-smoking sister ends, and the
sickening tragedy enshrouding the disease of lung cancer begins. It is
an abrupt transition, and alarming in its unceasing repetition.
Consider this: The majority
of lung cancer cases, approximately 60 percent, are diagnosed in
non-smokers. This includes former smokers who have admirably overcome
this powerful addiction and never-smokers like my sister. A recent study
in the Journal of Clinical Oncology confirms one’s anecdotal impression
with stark clinical data, revealing the number of non-smoking women
diagnosed with lung cancer is on the rise.
Approximately 25,000 people who
have never smoked will be diagnosed with lung cancer, and nearly
two-thirds of them are women. Now, imagine hearing Dana’s
heart-wrenching story repeated by thousands of women and their families
in 2007 alone.
Abrupt transitions. Alarming similar outcomes.
Lung cancer remains the leading cancer killer,
accounting for one-third of all cancer deaths annually. Surrounded by
stigma and lack of awareness, the disease kills at a steady rate. It is
terribly underfunded and engulfed in a cloud of confusing media
messages.Contributing to this is the stark reality that the disease has
few survivors and is swift to kill. It leaves little window for the
voices of its victims to be heard.
More than 160,000 Americans will die from lung cancer
this year. Nearly twice as many women will die from lung cancer than
breast cancer, and nearly three times as many men will die from lung
cancer than prostate cancer. Since the National Cancer Act of 1971,
coordinated and comprehensive research raised five-year survival rates
for breast cancer to 88 percent, prostate cancer to 99 percent, and
colon cancer to 64 percent. Yet no such effort for lung cancer has been
undertaken, and its five-year survival rate is only 15 percent.
The vast majority of diagnoses, roughly 70 percent, are
late stage, contributing significantly to lung cancer’s lethality. Yet
lung cancer early detection, a key arrow in any cancer control quiver,
remains mired in debate at the expense of those at high risk who could
benefit today from low-dose CT scans.
Dana and every other person diagnosed with lung cancer
and their families deserve better. In her memory, and the memory of all
those who have died from this disease—smoker or not—let us come together
to reverse the decades of stigma and neglect too long attached to lung
cancer. I know it is what Dana would want us to do.
—Deborah Morosini, MD, sister of the late Dana
Reeve, is a Lung Cancer Alliance Board member. Dr. Morosini currently
works as a pathologist in research and development at AstraZeneca, and
lives outside of Boston with her husband, Charles, and two sons.