NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 19, 2013

Fighting against a stigma

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

BY ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA
STAFF WRITER

---- — 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.

It was Brockelbank who discovered the event through an online search and encouraged her kids to walk with her that first year. It’s still a treasured memory for her children.

“My mom was an amazing person, one of the most empathetic and kind-hearted individuals you will ever meet,” Elliot said. “Although she is no longer with us, she is the true leader of our team. She found the walk, encouraged me and my brother to walk with her and formed the team. She volunteered her time throughout treatment at the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery event. Regardless of what she was going through, she was always there for others. She set the example for us to follow.”

Currently, only 16 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer survive five years post-diagnosis. But that’s something Elliot’s working hard to change by fundraising to support cancer research. Each year, she and her brother participate in fundraisers to support cancer research and treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

With early detection, there is hope for a better outcome, Elliot believes, and fewer people could be lost to a disease that affect smokers, and is on the rise in non-smokers as well.

“I can’t help but wonder if there had been a test for lung cancer that my mother could have been given that would have detected it earlier, and given her a better chance of survival,” Elliot said.

Those who would like to support Elliot’s team can pledge donations at lungevity.org/boston, or contact Elliot at nmelliot@yahoo.com.

IF YOU GO WHAT: Breathe Deep Boston 5K Walk to benefit LUNGevity Foundation WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 2. The walk will kick-off at 11 a.m. WHERE: Department of Conservation and Recreation's Mother's Rest Area in South Boston. The course is stroller and wheelchair-friendly. HOW: The registration fees are $25 for adults; $15 for lung cancer survivors, seniors and students with valid IDs., and $10 for youth under 13 years of age. To register for the walk or to support a walker, visit lungevity.org/boston or call 312-407-6100. Participants can enter the discount code "BREATHE" for $5 off the registration fee. DID YOU KNOW? Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, estimated to have claimed 160,000 lives in 2012, according to the American Lung Association, more than prostate, pancreatic, breast and colon cancers combined. The disease can afflict anyone, regardless of smoking history, gender, or ethnicity. And according to Dr. Lynne Eldridge, lung cancer among non-smokers is more common that many realize. "In fact," Eldridge wrote, "lung cancer in never-smokers is now considered that sixth most common cause of cancer deaths in the United States." The number of deaths due to lung cancer has increased approximately 4.3 percent between 1999 and 2008 from 152,156 to 158,656, according to the American Lung Association, and although the number of deaths among men has plateaued, the prevalence of the disease is still rising among women.