By Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-01), Member of the Congressional Lung Cancer Caucus
As a policymaker, I know we must do more to prevent lung cancer and support patients – especially women – who are battling this devastating disease. I’m proud to help lead the bipartisan Women and Lung Cancer Research and Preventive Services Act. This important legislation will lead a comprehensive study on women and lung cancer and improve public awareness and education on lung cancer.
For me, it’s personal. On February 7, 2012, after a demanding special election, I was sworn-in as a Member of the House of Representatives. My mom was beaming when I took the oath of office. A former piano teacher, artist, and gallery owner, she’s been a role model and inspiration throughout my life. I was thrilled she was there. One month later, Mom was diagnosed with lung cancer.
Already a breast cancer survivor, Mom told us the news right away. The family did exactly what you would expect; we turned to the internet and compiled a list of questions for her doctors. Small cell or non-small cell? What stage? Does she need surgery? If so, when, and what’s the recovery time? Will she need chemo? And how did she get lung cancer?
Born in 1928, Mom is from a generation when people smoked. She did too, in moderation, back in the 1960s and 1970s. Although I don’t remember her smoking much, she was a pianist and played in places full of smoke. Besides, back then people smoked in houses, cars, stores, and even airplanes.
After the diagnosis and surgery recommendation, my stepfather and I took Mom to meet her surgeon. He explained what happened in a lobectomy and we scheduled the surgery for a date when I was in Oregon. My stepfather and I paced the waiting room until we got the news that the surgery went well. Mom recovered in a skilled nursing facility for a few weeks, and was very happy to get back home.
Post-surgery, we learned that they found an occurrence in one of Mom’s lymph nodes; stage 2 went to stage 3. The doctors recommended chemo, which Mom tolerated remarkably well. In fact, I took her home after one of the sessions and asked if she was going to rest. “No,” she replied, “it’s senior discount day at the grocery store so I’m going shopping.”
Fortunately, more than 6 years later, Mom is still with us and we are planning her 90th birthday celebration. She has Alzheimer’s now, so she’s in assisted living. Sadly we lost my stepfather in 2016. He had been limping and started walking with a cane. One day he fell on the sidewalk and hit his leg on the curb. He drove himself to the emergency room, and later that day we learned that he had Stage 4, small cell lung cancer, which had spread throughout his body. Two months later he was gone. Just one month before that, we lost my uncle, Mom’s younger brother, who also had lung cancer.
Throughout the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about lung cancer. I still have many questions, but a few things are clear; we need more research about causes, prevention, and treatment, and we need better access to affordable health care for everyone across this great country we call home.