‘If you have lungs, you are at risk’: Mother-of-four, 49, who has never had a cigarette battles ‘incurable’ lung cancer and stigma as others ask her how many she smoked a day
- Jill Feldman, 49, from Chicago, Illinois, lost five family members to lung cancer over 14 years
- She started getting regular scans of her lungs, which looked normal until 2009
- Feldman underwent two surgeries and is now on targeted therapy to keep the cancer from spreading outside her lungs
- The mother-of-four, who has never smoked, said the question she was asked most often after her diagnosis was how long she had been smoking for
A lung cancer patient who never smoked a day in her life says that people battling the life-threatening disease are unfairly blamed and stigmatized for their own illness – and the assumptions about lung cancer only put more people at risk.
Jill Feldman, 49, of Chicago, Illinois, watched five family members die of lung cancer over 14 years.
Because of the family history, she started getting CT scans of her lungs every two to three years. The first two were fine, but the third showed a small nodule.
At 39 years old, the married mother-of-four was diagnosed with lung cancer herself.
Feldman has never picked up a cigarette, but since her diagnosis, she’s often asked how long she has been smoking, reported TODAY.
Feldman is now speaking out for the first time in the hops of breaking the stigma and wants to tell her others that ‘as long as you have lungs, you are at risk’ of the disease.
Public health officials note people should get regularly checked if they smoke because nicotine addiction is a disease that can lead to cancer.
Jill Feldman, 49, of Chicago, Illinois, was diagnosed with lung cancer despite never have smoked before in her life. Pictured: Feldman, left, in the hospital for a surgery
Feldman (left and right) lost five family members – two grandparents, her parents and an aunt – to lung cancer over 14 years. She started getting regular CT scans of her lungs, which looked normal, until 2009
Feldman told TODAY that when she was 13, two of her grandparents – her maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather – died of lung cancer within weeks of each other.
Over the next 14 years, her father, her mother and an aunt all lost their own battles with the same disease.
Despite the family history, Feldman never thought she would be a patient herself, until 2009, when CT scans showed nodules in her lungs.
‘Imagine how you would feel if you were diagnosed with the same disease that you literally watched kill both your mom and your dad,’ she said.
Signs and symptoms of lung cancer, such as coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain, don’t usually show up until it’s in advanced stages.
There are several options for treatment including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy and targeted drug therapy.
The American Cancer Society estimates that about 228,100 cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed in 2019, and about 142,600 people will die.
Lung cancer kills more people in the US every year than any other single cancer. It is responsible for more deaths than breast, colon, ovarian and prostate cancers combined.
For tumors that spread to other organs, the five-year survival rate is just five percent.
But five-year-survival rate for localized cancer that is contained to the lungs, like Feldman’s, is 56 percent.
Although people who smoke have the greatest risk of lung cancer, about 10 percent of those with the disease have never smoked.
Feldman said that when she was diagnosed, the question people asked her the most was how long she had smoked.
‘Any other cancer, people say: “I am so sorry. What can I do to help?”‘ she told TODAY.
‘With lung cancer, you are immediately put on the defensive.’
Feldman has undergone two surgeries and is now on targeted therapy to keep the cancer from spreading outside her lungs. Pictured: Feldman, far right, with her husband, far left, and her four children
She has never smoked, but said the question she was asked most often after her diagnosis was how long she had been smoking for. Pictured: Feldman
Feldman has an incurable form of lung cancer, but it has not spread beyond her chest.
Now, after two surgeries, she is undergoing targeted therapy. She takes a drug every day and will do so indefinitely, unless the cancer builds a resistance to the treatment.
The mother-of-four now spends her time traveling, advocating for lung cancer awareness, working to break the stigma surrounding the disease and raising money for research.
Since 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration has approved at least 23 new treatments for lung cancer – more than over the past three decades – which Feldman says gives her hope.
‘I never used to use the word “hope” in the same sentence with lung cancer because in my experience, there wasn’t any,’ she told TODAY.
‘But there is hope now. It’s real hope.’