Dunbogan resident Carmel Enkelmann says she was treated differently when she told people she had breast cancer compared to when she was diagnosed with lung cancer.
“Most people I talk to almost assume that I’ve been a smoker, where as in reality a lot of non-smokers can get it too,” she said.
A recent report released by the Lung Foundation Australia looked into the social, economic and mental health issues of Australians living with lung cancer.
The report said lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the country.
It said while smoking is prominent amongst risk factors, approximately 21 per cent of people living with lung cancer are life-long non-smokers.
“Smoking is viewed as the main contributing factor for lung cancer and as a result, current and former smokers and non-smokers alike who have lung cancer often feel blamed for their illness,” the report said.
“This judgment negatively impacts the perceived worthiness of people to access support, and reduces their sense of entitlement to care and empathy.”
Before she had lung cancer Carmel was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. The two cancers are not linked.
Just before Carmel was told she had lung cancer in 2017, she had received the ‘all clear’ result from a breast cancer scan.
Carmel first discovered something was wrong when she attended a dragon boaters session in September 2017. She had been attending training four to five times a week.
“I became very short of breath after walking from the car park to where the shed was,” she said.
“I was absolutely exhausted and excused myself.
“By the time I got back to the car I could hardly breathe.”
Carmel managed to get medical assistance and was transferred to the Port Macquarie Base Hospital.
She had 2.6 litres of fluid drained off her lungs.
“It was horrendous.” she said.
Three weeks later Carmel received the pathology results and was told she had lung cancer. She was initially given six months to live.
Carmel has non small cell lung cancer which is the most common type of lung cancer.
Unfortunately Carmel said people are not educated about lung cancer because many other cancers, including breast cancers have more funding attached to them.
“There is a great understanding and awareness of breast cancer amongst the public,” she said.
Carmel said it’s a shame there is a negative stigma attached to lung cancer because it means it’s underfunded in terms of cancer research.
“I think that’s because the campaigns to show the negative impacts of smoking and its association with lung cancer have been so successful,” she said.
Carmel wants people to realise that people can be diagnosed with lung cancer even if they’ve never smoked before in their life.
It’s Carmel’s goal to go back to Ireland to see her sister. She will travel in 2019 if she feels well enough.
Carmel is a member of the Live to Breathe group in Laurieton.