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October 19, 2013

Fighting against a stigma

After mother's death, siblings, friends walk to raise money for lung cancer research

SALISBURY — It’s tragic enough to lose your mother to lung cancer without having to listen to others blame her for getting the disease because she was a smoker.

Nicole Elliot, 27, has to deal with that too often since her mom, 52-year-old Brenda Brockelbank, lost her battle with the disease in 2011, after a two-year battle. Elliot often finds herself frustrated about the issue, which was a burden her mother faced as well.

Her mother may have been a smoker, but lung cancer shouldn’t be considered an accepted punishment, she said.

“When people learned my mother had died, they’d ask me why she died,” said Elliot, a Salisbury native. “When I’d answer she died from lung cancer, the next question was ‘Did she smoke?’ When someone has breast cancer, people don’t ask if the person stood too close to radiation. They just offer their sympathy. I don’t think people understand how that kind of comment affects a person’s healing.”

Elliot said the stigma associated with lung cancer weighed heavily on her mom, even though she tried to rise above it.

“People eat things they shouldn’t eat, do things they shouldn’t do, no one lives a perfect life,” Elliot said. “You’re dealing with enough when dealing with lung cancer; you shouldn’t have to defend yourself because you smoked. It really bothered my mom. She felt that lung cancer doesn’t get as much research because of the stigma of smoking.”

In an effort to raise awareness and change the attitude about lung cancer, on Saturday, Nov. 2, Elliot will participate in the LUNGevity Foundation’s eighth annual Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk. The event raises funds to support lung cancer research, advocacy and support across the country.

Under the team name “Brenda Lee and Friends,” Elliot, her brother and sister-in-law, Robert and Holly Washburn, along with 20 friends and family members will join an expected 2,000 people who will participate in the one-day fundraising event, which they hope will raise a total of $250,000 for the cause.

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