They take to the streets every year in November as part of Lung Cancer Awareness Month to raise public awareness, interest and education in the disease and remember loved ones who’ve succumbed to it.
The annual walk and dinner has grown over the years in participation and importance in educating the public that not everyone who has or had lung cancer is or was a smoker.
They gathered Wednesday night in the parking lot at Lompoc High School to tie white ribbons to the fence and hand out white balloons.
“Like breast cancer is pink, lung cancer is pearl and so we use white to designate lung cancer”, says organizer Kathi Downey, “In August of 2010, my sister, a non-smoker, was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and back then there was no support for people with lung cancer.”
Many who participated in the walk wore white t-shirts in memory of lung cancer victims.
“Whenever I tell my clients my Mom died of lung cancer or had lung cancer, they always ask, first question, was she a smoker?”, said participant Jamie Chai whose mother was a smoker.
Carrying their white balloons, they pounded the pavement, walking from the high school on College Avenue down to H Street, then south to Ocean Avenue, over to I Street ending at the Union Gardens where live music and a hot spaghetti dinner awaited them.
Organizers of the annual event say part of the goal is to raise awareness of the stigma attached to those diagnosed with lung cancer.
“People weren’t coming out talking about lung cancer and they still are very reluctant to say they have it because people treat them different because they figure they deserve it”, Kathi Downey says, “the first thing when you say my sister has lung cancer, well, I didn’t know she smoked, but if anybody has lungs you are at risk for lung cancer and that’s the big thing we’re trying to get out is just because you have lung cancer, its not your fault, and people are treated that way.”
“If you look at people who have, say, pancreatic or colon cancer, there’s no first question to ask, there’s no, oh, you must have done this”, Jamie Chai says, “so we’re trying to end the stigma and get rid of that first question that makes it feel like for some reason, you know, they deserved it.”
“This awareness is bringing two main points to light”, adds Jamie’s sister, “you do not have to be a smoker to get lung cancer, and if you are, or were, a smoker that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to be provided a better way to combat this horrible disease. You are worth more!”
“The stigma attached to this type of cancer is disheartening because the belief is that people do this to themselves”, she says, “this mis-education of the subject, as well as the lack of funding and research, allows individuals to suffer that did not smoke and breeds a perception to ones that did smoke that their struggle does not matter or that they deserve it.” The lung cancer walk and dinner was hosted by Branded Salon, Barbershop and Boutique in Lompoc.