Lisa Severn
Lisa Severn

When Lisa Severn tells people that she had lung cancer, they almost always ask if she smoked.

She has made a full recovery, but is still frustrated with the stigma attached to her diagnosis and hopes to raise awareness that lung cancer affects more than just lifelong smokers.

"Who asks a colon cancer patient, 'Did you eat lots of bacon?'" said Severn, a 49-year-old Codorus Township resident diagnosed with lung cancer in 2006.

While Severn smoked occasionally before she turned 19, she was never a regular smoker.

Skeptical looks abound when she shares this tidbit, whether at doctor's appointments or with

someone she is meeting for the first time.

Awareness: Lung cancer research events are few and far between, and very little is done to promote November as National Lung Cancer Awareness Month, she said.

"Even famous people who had lung cancer, like Paul Newman, wouldn't say that it was lung cancer," she said. "It was just cancer."

Nearly everyone recognizes pink ribbons as symbolic of breast cancer, but Severn wonders how many people know that white ribbons stand for lung cancer.

And lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States.

"Lung cancer is the disease that no one wants to talk about, yet it kills more women each year than breast, ovarian and uterine cancers combined," Severn said.

"There is no 'good' kind of cancer, and anything that can be done to stop any kind of cancer is worthwhile," Severn said. "I would just like to see more people speak up about lung cancer."

The diagnosis: A cold that lasted several weeks is what initially prompted Severn's husband, Mark, to urge her to go to the doctor.

She was told it was just allergies or allergy-induced asthma, but when nothing improved she requested a chest X-ray that revealed a partially collapsed lung.

After several more tests, Severn was told she had small cell lung cancer, which is usually only found in people who have smoked for 30 years or longer.

Usually non-smokers have non-small cell lung cancer, which is less aggressive, said Severn.

"I had just lost my mother the month prior and now I was facing potentially my own death," Severn said.

Hope: She wept when a doctor looked her in the eye and said, "We can cure this."

"This time it was tears of joy and thanksgiving," she said. "There was still a tough road ahead, but at least now I had hope."

Severn had four rounds of chemotherapy, 30 radiation treatments and surgery.

"I had tons of support from family and friends. I had so many people praying for me, people I didn't even know," she said.

Now Severn is marking her fifth year being disease-free, and says she is proof that lung cancer is not a death sentence.

The key, she says, is early detection.

"People keep saying that I am a miracle girl," said Severn. "Maybe I am, but I would really like to see a time when my story becomes the norm for lung cancer patients and not the exception."

-- Reach Chelsea Shank at 505-5432 or cshank@yorkdispatch.com