UVA nurse fights stigma surrounding lung cancer
When Lee Ann Johnson was in nursing school, her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. She was in her mid-50’s, and the news came as a terrible shock.
“She was not a smoker and had never smoked," she recalls. The second leading cause of lung cancer is radon exposure.”
Radon is an odorless gas released from rocks, soil and water, and it’s sometimes found in homes. Johnson doesn’t know if that’s what caused her mother’s illness, but she says it shouldn’t matter.
“It’s horrible for everyone, and so we should be advocating for everyone who is diagnosed to get the best care possible, to have their symptoms managed in the best way possible, and to give them the same empathy,” Johnson contends.
Her research suggests there’s a stigma surrounding the disease. People figure smokers brought this on themselves, and they are less likely to lend social support.
“There’s not a pink ribbon campaign, and there’s not a lot of walks to raise money for lung cancer.," she explains. "When you look at overall funding through the federal government, lung cancer receives very little funding compared to other cancers.”
On her death bed, Johnson’s mom made her promise to find a man, buy a house, have babies –and to fix lung cancer. A dutiful daughter, she got a PhD and is now doing research in that field and working to reduce the stigma associated with the leading cause of cancer deaths in this country.