Last year, Jennifer’s entire life changed when what she thought was a cough and fatigue was diagnosed as Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer. Today, Jennifer continues to embrace an active lifestyle and has channeled this life-altering diagnosis into advocating for, educating and empowering lung cancer patients. Following a recent visit to AstraZeneca’s laboratories, along with other individuals living with cancer, and a discussion with our employees about the power of patients, Jennifer shared her perspective on living with lung cancer, erasing stigma, and the importance of being your own advocate.
Before you were diagnosed, what did your life look like?
Jennifer: I’ve been an anesthesiologist in private practice for almost 14 years. My husband, two young children and I lived a very busy life in the suburbs of Boston until everything changed in the winter of 2017. Looking back, I did start to feel a bit of discomfort in my joints just prior to my diagnosis, but I assumed I was working too much. Even though I had a persistent cough, lung cancer had never even crossed my mind.
What were you feeling when you found out you had lung cancer?
Jennifer: I was completely flabbergasted. It took me a while to get over the shock and the guilt. I went through all of the phases that you hear about: denial, guilt, anger. I felt like, well, Jen, you knew you had this cough. Why didn’t you push this? You’re a physician. Why didn’t you ask for an x-ray sooner? Also, I’ve never smoked.
People are usually surprised by their diagnosis if they don’t smoke. Was that your experience?
Jennifer: Definitely – the stigma surrounding lung cancer is very real. A lot of people equate lung cancer with smoking and not many people realize that there are many other causes for the disease, most of which we can’t even pinpoint. I want people to realize that many newly diagnosed lung cancer patients have never smoked. What I tell people now is that if you have lungs, you can get lung cancer.
It certainly helps to change the stigma when people like you share their story. What inspires you to share?
Jennifer: I share my story to get the word out that lung cancer isn’t just a disease for people who have smoked their whole lives. It’s a national crisis. We need to raise awareness, band together and do whatever it takes to turn this devastating disease into something that’s manageable long-term.
What would you say to someone living with lung cancer who wants to help make a difference?
Jennifer: Advocacy is critical – lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of men and women in this country, and the research funding doesn’t match the prevalence. It’s also very important to not only be an advocate to the rest of the world, but to also advocate for yourself. I would tell a newly diagnosed patient that it’s very important to be their own advocate – to talk to their doctor, ask questions, and be involved.
With all of the work that’s being done – by advocates and the broader cancer community – are you hopeful for the future?
Jennifer: I’m very hopeful. I know there’s a lot of great research being done at this time. I’m very hopeful that someday we will be able to treat lung cancer like we treat many other cancers – as a chronic disease.
We invite you to learn more from other advocates who are leading efforts to educate and inform patients about lung cancer: