A Devastating Double Diagnosis
- Husband and father Graham Brooke-Smith, a healthy non-smoker, was in shock when he found out in January that he had stage 4 lung cancer. Just five months later, his wife Mery, also a non-smoker, experienced even more shock when she received the exact same diagnosis.
- The New Zealand couple, who have two young buys, ages 9 and 11, are determined to fight with the help of thousands of supporters who have helped raise funds for their out-of-pocket treatment costs.
- A lot of survivors tell us that telling their loved ones was one of the hardest things about having cancer, especially children. Staying strong for your kids when you yourself are not feeling strong is crushing, but it is important to never give up hope as more and more medical miracles happen each and every day.
Husband and father Graham Brooke-Smith, a healthy non-smoker, was in shock when he found out in January that he had stage 4 lung cancer. Just five months later, his wife Mery, also a non-smoker, experienced even more shock when she received the exact same diagnosis.Read More
The Auckland, New Zealand-based couple do not have the funds or insurance to pay for the astronomical treatmen costs, but luckily their community has rallied around them to try to help. Their boys are just 9 and 11 years old, and no one deserves this kind of overwhelming stress and sadness.
Graham’s employer, Candor3, have helped raise nearly all of the $200,000 goal for the family on a page they set up on Givealittle. Over 3,000 generous donations have poured in with touching messages of support, mostly from strangers touched by the heartbreaking story.
“I pray this treatment will give you both as long as possible with your beautiful boys,” one donor wrote.
“Sending you love and strength. We have an 11 year old and 9 year old too,” another supporter commented. “May you have as much time as you need together and may the boys be resilient and have all the love they need around them always.”
Graham and Mery’s Lung Cancer Battles
The symptom that first alerted Graham was his back pain, and he went in to get it checked out. The civil engineer underwent multiple tests and ultimately they found out that he had lung cancer that has already spread to his spine.
Mery’s lung cancer has also spread to her spine and tragically, is even more aggressive than Graham’s, and has also spread to her thigh bone. She is currently recovering in the hospital where she had a steel rod put in her leg to help stabilize her.
Mery’s diagnosis followed just five months later. She was also found to have lung cancer that had spread to her spine but hers is more aggressive and has reached her thigh bone as well.
“I was quite stoic when we found out about my cancer, I knew the kids would have their mother around at least. I thought that wasn’t so terrible,” Graham told Stuff of the highly fragile situation.
“We prepared for it, set up plans, the will,” he continued. “Then everything went pear-shaped when Mery was diagnosed. That’s when I cried, that really hurt because our boys were going to be orphans.”
A lot of survivors tell us that telling their loved ones was one of the hardest things about having cancer, especially children. Staying strong for your kids when you yourself are not feeling strong is crushing.
“One cancer is all right, but when it strikes twice, the exact same type and terminal – it’s very hard,” he added.
According to the fundraising page, Graham’s ongoing cancer medication will cost him at least $100,000. His chemotherapy treatment has been covered by his insurance but the additional treatment needed is not covered and therefore, out of pocket. With their savings “depleted,” Graham has at least been able to go back to work part-time.
Mery’s treatment costs around the same—$90,000 for six months—but will require another $2,200 every month thereafter.
At this point, Graham and Mery just want to be around as long as they possibly can for their children, and with the generous help thus far from their community, at least the last thing they need to worry about is money as they keep fighting.
No matter what, it’s crucial to never give up hope.
Lung Cancer in Non-Smokers
Declining smoking rates have led to an improved outlook for lung cancer since cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for the disease. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports that cigarette smoking is linked to about 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths, and people who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who don’t smoke.
It’s important to remember, however, that even people like Graham and Mery, who’ve never smoked before can still get lung cancer. The CDC reports that in the United States, about 10% to 20% of lung cancers, or 20,000 to 40,000 lung cancers each year, happen in people who’ve never smoked.
“Some lung cancers are from unknown exposure to air pollution, radon or asbestos,” Dr. Raja Flores, system chair of thoracic surgery at Mount Sinai, previously told SurvivorNet. “We also see more never-smokers with lung cancer who have a family history of it.”
Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer. It’s responsible for anywhere from 3% to 16% of cancer cases depending on the levels present in a given area, according to the World Health Organization, but smokers are still 25 times more at risk from radon than non-smokers.
Another possibility for the cause of lung cancer in a non-smoker can be second-hand smoke. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 7,000 adults die of lung cancer annually from breathing secondhand smoke.
Air pollution, family history, HIV or AIDs can also all impact the chances of a non-smoker getting lung cancer. No matter what, it’s important to not rule out the disease just because you don’t smoke.