Retirees Ken and Dale Bottrell from the Melbourne suburb of Park Orchards were living the ‘grey nomad’ dream until Dale noticed what looked like a small string underneath her armpit during a caravanning trip to Cooktown in Queensland’s North.
When they got home to Victoria, Dale’s GP confirmed she had stage four non-small cell lung cancer.
Dale has since undergone brain surgery and an operation to remove part of her spine, as well as a number of other treatments.
After he wife’s diagnoses Ken vowed to do anything in his power to make a difference in the fight against lung cancer – the leading cause of cancer death in Australia.
Which is why he’s signed up as an ambassador for the Lung Foundation Australia’s latest campaign, to help end the stigma around lung cancer and to change people’s perceptions of what a lung cancer diagnosis means.
The first question that people, including health professionals, ask upon hearing of Dale’s diagnosis is ‘did she smoke?
There are currently more than 12,000 Australians living with lung cancer, with around 35 people a day diagnosed with the disease last year.
Despite the fact that around one in five people living with lung cancer are life long non-smokers, almost 90 per cent of Australians believe smoking is the only lung cancer risk factor
“The first question that people, including health professionals, ask upon hearing of Dale’s diagnosis is ‘did she smoke?,” said Ken.
While he said it’s an automatic question, it’s this attitude and inaccurate assumption that “grinds his gears”.
Every hour, an Australian watches a loved one die from lung cancer – a disease which kills more people than breast and ovarian cancers combined. At the same time, more than a third of people believe those living with lung cancer are their “own worst enemy” who “have only themselves to blame”.
Dale hopes that this new awareness campaign will make people realise that anyone can get lung cancer, not just smokers. “If you have lungs and can breathe, you’re at risk,” he says.
Lung Foundation Australia chief executive Mark Brooke said many Australians don’t realise how far-reaching the impact of their stigma can be. “It results in delayed diagnosis, access to treatment and a lack of research funding,” he said.
“We also know it makes people living with lung cancer reluctant to seek help and, distressingly, four times more likely to suicide than the general population.”
“Nobody deserves to have cancer, regardless of what type. Everyone deserves care, treatment, and support.”
There is no regular screening test, and symptoms of lung cancer may go unnoticed by those living with the disease. But people who are diagnosed with lung cancer in an earlier stage have a better chance of survival than those diagnosed with later stage cancer.
There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer, which makes up 85 per cent of people diagnosed and small cell lung cancer which accounts for 15 per cent of diagnoses. People living with small cell lung cancer generally have lower survival rates.
While at first Dale and Ken were devastated and angry, now five years down the track, they endeavour to live life as normally as possible - hopping into their caravan to explore the unknown corners of Australia and continuing their adventures as often as Dale’s treatment plan allows.
To find out what you can do to better-support those living with lung cancer, go to FairGoForLungCancer.org.au