April Rosen remembers the day she went to a local hospital for a chest X-ray in preparation for a routine medical procedure. She left with scary news: They had found an unusual spot on her lung and needed to investigate further.
That was 19 years ago. Since then, the lung cancer survivor has undergone lots of tests, surgery and other procedures in her journey and along the way has seen firsthand the advances made in the detection and treatment of lung cancer, the deadliest cancer among men and women in the U.S.
“I am the luckiest person alive. I am very hopeful, and I invite you to be hopeful with me,” Rosen told a crowd of cancer patients, their families and nurses and physicians who gathered at the Hillman Cancer Center on Thursday for a special event to “Shine a Light” on lung cancer.
The gathering was part of a national campaign to bring hope, inspiration and support to those with lung cancer and their families and friends. More than 200 communities across the country will be hosting Shine a Light events in partnership with the Lung Cancer Alliance (LCA).
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. The disease kills twice as many women as breast cancer and three times as many men as prostate cancer. While a history of smoking is the main risk factor for developing lung cancer, nearly 80 percent of those diagnosed today are never smokers or are former smokers who quit decades ago.
“Just a few decades ago, we didn’t treat lung cancer patients with chemotherapy,” said Liza Villaruz, M.D., a UPMC oncologist who spoke at the event. “It’s absolutely amazing what we have done in the last 10 to 15 years with advances in targeting therapies, immunotherapy and other ways that we are improving the standard of care.”
Myrna Negley was diagnosed with lung cancer last year after she started to have difficulty swallowing. A mother of five and grandmother of 11, Negley thanked those caregivers in the crowd for all the work they do.
She said she was happy that her doctor sent her to UPMC, a place where she said she has found a kind of family that laughs and cries with her. She considers herself blessed, no matter what the future brings.
“This cancer does not own me,” she said. “I own it.”