“Don’t let them write it off if you’re a nonsmoker — it’s possible nonsmoker diagnosed with lung cancer.”
Tori Tomalia, a mother of three young children from Ann Arbor, Michigan, was diagnosed last year with stage IV lung cancer. She was only 37.
“I actually thought it was impossible for a nonsmoker to get lung cancer at my age,” she told NBC News.
Emily Bennett Taylor, a healthy athlete from Los Angeles, California, was even younger when she got her diagnosis at 28. Her doctors were also surprised and brushed off her chronic cough as asthma.
Emily Bennett Taylor and her husband Miles in 2013, celebrating NED or “no evidence of disease.” Today, Emily Bennett Taylor is cancer-free after chemotherapy, lung surgery and radiation.
Emily Bennett Taylor said her lung cancer diagnosis came in 2012 when she was seemingly in top physical shape. “I played volleyball in college and still played a couple of times a week,” she said. “For all intents and purposes, I was healthy.”
She had just done a 13-mile mountain hike, when she said she noticed a cough and wheezing that “got worse and worse” and a pain in her right shoulder blade. “They thought maybe I had allergies or had developed asthma late in life,” said Taylor. She was given an inhaler and had to wait months before seeing a pulmonologist.
“My doctor said, ‘Nobody your age and healthy ever got lung cancer — don’t worry,’” she said. But Taylor kept thinking about a Jill Costello, a UC Berkeley student and captain of the crew team who had been diagnosed with lung cancer at 21. “I pushed for an X-ray,” she said. Doctors found a stage IV tumor in her right lung.
Lung cancer is the top cancer killer of women, and some medical experts say that they are seeing more patients in their 20s and 30s, many of them nonsmokers. But because lung cancer carries the stigma of smoking, experts say it is often overlooked in non-smoking patients — and doesn’t get the kind of funding or support given to breast cancer and other big killers.
“No one deserves to get lung cancer,” Sequist added. “But we are seeing a lot of patients who never smoked or smoked years ago or only in small amounts. We just don’t know why.”
The disease takes more lives than breast, prostate, colon, and pancreatic cancers combined, and its survival rate is only 16 percent. Besides smoking, exposure to second-hand smoke, asbestos, radon or having a family history can put a woman at risk.