'My purpose'

Posted: 6/9/2010

From Northwest Herald:

Ann Baker never smoked.

It's a fact that the Cary resident feels compelled to clarify on a regular basis. That's because about two years ago, she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

"As you start to tell family and friends, people are very confused," Baker said. "The comments are, 'You never smoked, did you?' There's a lot of misunderstanding."

She said that even CT scan technicians would ask, "Are you a smoker?"

"It became almost a point of contention with me," Baker said. "I would say, 'No. I'm not a smoker, and what difference does it possibly make?' "

The conversations also gave her an insight into what it must be like for smokers who get the disease.

"It's no less devastating for them," Baker said.
"In fact, I feel worse, because they do feel the guilt and the shame."

And regardless of what led to the cancer, the odds never are good. For Baker, they're especially bad. In her condition, only 2 percent of patients live past the five-year mark.

"I've come to a place that recognizes ... we're here to do something good for the people that we leave behind," Baker said.

"So with my kids, my family, [I] make things count."

Baker first noticed her own symptoms during a walk for a different cancer -- the Avon Breast Cancer Walk. She was having trouble breathing and thought she had a cold.

After numerous tests and treatments without success, she had a lung biopsy performed; during the surgery, doctors discovered the cancer.

"I was shocked more than anything else," Baker said. "It probably took me two months before I could actually say the phrase, 'I have lung cancer' to someone because I just didn't believe it."

She's a come long way since then, though. Now as an advocate for awareness of the disease, Baker has raised money by doing half of the Hustle up the Hancock, become involved with the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, and met with legislators in Washington, D.C.

"It's sort of become my purpose," she said. "I have three kids, and I want there to be better research and treatments out there. I want there to be screening so they don't have to get this diagnosis so late."

Specifically, she'd like to see more money go to lung cancer research and screening ideas, because right now a lot of the funding goes to anti-smoking campaigns.

"The biggest belief is that if you just got people to stop smoking, lung cancer would go away," she said. "[But] there's got to be more research ... we've got to understand why lung cancer is occurring."

Joel Africk, president and CEO of the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago points out that in 2009, more women died in the U.S. from lung cancer than who died from breast, cervical and ovarian cancer combined -- 70,490 compared with 58,840, according to the American Cancer Society.

A lack of awareness of that fact is part of the reason his organization has started a campaign that targets women.

It features a pink butterfly and the slogan "Catch your breath."

"We don't want people to think of lung cancer as only affecting old smokers," Africk said. "Ann's story reminds us very vividly that lung cancer can strike any of us."

Baker said her own cancer was under control and she was in relatively good health, so for now she took things one breath at a time.

“I’m very optimistic by nature,” she said. “I’m not unrealistic, but this is my purpose.”

Orginal here.

To view the video that accompanied this story, visit our Lung Cancer page