Monday was the last time in the foreseeable future that Dr. Victor Ferraris, my thoracic surgeon, will have a chance to see me naked. He was as happy about that as I was.
I graduated Monday from the status of being a patient-in-waiting to cancer survivor. I had been waiting for five years to hear those words.
While I reveled in that blessing for an hour or two, never far from my mind was the realization that many people who are diagnosed with lung cancer don't reach that milestone. According to the Lung Cancer Alliance, more people die from lung cancer than die from breast, prostate and colon cancers combined.
But according to folks who have to deal with this disease every day, we don't seem to care. Lisa Maggio, a nurse educator and co-chair of this weekend's Free to Breathe 5K Walk, wants us to care.
"If there were 450 people dying in a plane crash every single day, don't you think someone would notice?" Maggio said.
Lung cancer survival rates are only 2 percentage points better now than 40 years ago, according to the alliance. And that rate is only 15 percent or 16 percent. Thirty percent of cancer deaths — 450 people a day — are from lung cancer.
The survival rate for prostate-cancer has leaped to 99.7 percent, from 67 percent four decades ago. Breast cancer survival is at 89.1 percent, up from 75 percent.
The reason we don't seem to care that hundreds of our neighbors, friends and family members are dying daily from lung cancer is because as we demonized smoking, we demonized the smoker.
It is the stigma that has blocked money from being funneled toward research on lung cancer, Maggio said.
"There will be no change unless we get the research dollars," she said. "If you look at the comparisons, it makes you so sad."
Maggio said breast cancer started out in the same position, but grants helped improve survival chances. Funding for lung cancer, however, has decreased since 2005. With little grant funding, young scientists who could devote more time searching for a cure go where the dollars are.
To heighten awareness in Lexington, Maggio and a team of volunteers have coordinated the first 5K walk to benefit lung-cancer research. The walk is Sunday around the UK campus.
"It's time to get people behind us and shed that stigma and the blame," she said.
Registration is at the new pavilion at the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital, and the walk will start and end there. In addition, there will be information about smoking-cessation services, which Maggio calls "nicotine-dependence treatment."
A limited number of radon-testing kits will be available, along with information on detecting the odorless cancer-causing gas in our homes. And there will be information about Kentucky Clinical Trials Network, and about low-dose CT screenings, which require less radiation than regular CT scans. They are relatively new and have been recommended for current and former smokers 50 and older who have smoked a pack a day for 30 years.
A trial sponsored by the National Cancer Institute over eight years found that the low-dose scan was better than an X-ray for finding early stage lung cancer. The problem with lung cancer is that it too often is found in later stages because of a lack of screening tools.
My cancers, one found in 2004 and another in 2006, were discovered early. I had a cough that sent me to the doctor the first time and was still under observation when the second was discovered.
So, even if you come out Sunday and walk only halfway around, which I might do, there will be a wealth of information to help us all better understand lung cancer. Registration is $25, and 82 percent of that will go to the National Lung Cancer Partnership, which funds cancer-awareness programs and research.
Maggio is passionate about making us more aware of the disease. Her father died of lung cancer in 1990 after smoking for 58 years. He started at age 11 and was enabled during World War II when cigarettes were included in his rations.
"Nobody really understood the addictive nature of cigarettes back then," she said. If you look at the majority of new smokers now, she said, they are younger than 18, and "they think they are omnipotent."
While smoking is a leading cause of lung cancer, there have been thousands of people diagnosed with the disease who have never smoked. You don't have to smoke to get lung cancer.
"If you have lungs, you can get lung cancer," Maggio said.
I plan to attend the walk Sunday even though I will have to miss church and perhaps endure cold weather and rains. I don't like to do either of those things.
But I dislike lung cancer and the stigma surrounding it more.
I'll get out of my comfort zone if you will get out of yours.