Some dates get etched in our minds.
On Oct. 31, 2002, my beautiful mother, Sallye Price of Buffalo, N.Y., was diagnosed with lung cancer. Coincidentally, it was the same day her fourth grandson was born.
Seven months later, the disease took Mom's life. She fought a valiant battle with strength, grace and dignity.
Mom was born in Salisbury but spent most of her life in Buffalo. Her Southern roots brought me to Charlotte 32 years ago.
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November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Every year, my sister (in Cheverly, Md.) and I try to do something (in honor of Mom) to help educate people about this disease.
It is often called "the silent killer" because, by the time it is discovered, it is often too late to stop. As in Mom's case, the cancer was hidden behind her heart, and she was misdiagnosed several times with bronchitis. Regular checkups and X-rays missed the cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 221,130 new cases of lung cancer are expected in 2011, including 7,300 in North Carolina. Since 1987, more women have died each year from lung cancer than from breast cancer.
There are two types of lung cancer; small-cell and non-small-cell. Only 15 percent of lung cancers are diagnosed in the early stage. The five-year survival rate for non-small-cell lung cancer is 17 percent, and only 6 percent for small-cell lung cancer. African-Americans have higher mortality rates than whites from nearly every type of cancer.
Some of the signs and symptoms include a persistent cough, sputum streaked with blood, chest pain, voice change and recurrent pneumonia or bronchitis. Smoking is a serious risk factor. Risk increases with the quality and duration of smoking. My mother had stopped smoking 25 years before her diagnosis, but she also worked in an environment where she was exposed to secondhand smoke.
If you have concerns or questions, talk to your physician. Also, ask your physician about getting a spiral CT scan; it takes pictures in slices and gives a clearer picture of what's going on in your lungs.
I miss my mom more than words can express. If it were possible, I know she would want to help prevent others from contracting lung cancer.
Knowledge is power, and early detection is key. To help fight this disease, more public education, research and legislation is needed on a national level. One source of information is www.cancer.org; for another, call the American Cancer Society at 800-227-2345.