A Comedian Takes on Cancer
- Comedian Kathy Griffin, 60, is recovering from stage 1 lung cancer surgery in which her vocal cords were damaged.
- To help with her voice a doctor gave her a collagen shot in her paralyzed vocal cord. The procedure did not go as planned, but Griffin seems to be doing better and is giving her fans updates and making jokes about the whole experience.
- Declining smoking rates and improvements in surgical techniques and radiation delivery have greatly improved the outlook for people with lung cancer in recent years.
The 60-year-old announced her stage 1 lung cancer diagnosis via social media on Aug. 2. The cancer seemed to be contained to one part of her lung, so she underwent surgery to have half of her left lung removed shortly after sharing the news.Read More
View this post on Instagram
“They put the scope down me and it’s got like a little camera, and the doctor’s watching the screen, and then he takes the needle and puts it in my neck like freakin’ Frankenstein!” Griffin said in her video. “It was like almost the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life, but I’m thinking, no no people do this all the time.”
Then, her pain got so bad that her throat closed up and the scope got caught in her throat.
“I’m choking, and I can’t breathe, so then he like finally takes it out and I’m doubled over coughing my guts out, and of course the doctor’s like ‘This never happens, this never happens.'”
She left the doctor’s sobbing, throwing up and in pain. Still, she has a good attitude about the whole thing and makes light of her unusual experience.
“In my last video, I talked about having complications, and about being in the lower three percentile, so I guess for this procedure I’m in the lower one percentile,” Griffin said. “It’s been getting a little better every day, but anyway that’s the latest dispatch from the lower three percentile. Love you guys.”
Understanding Lung Cancer
Lung cancer, the second most common type of cancer, is the leading cause of cancer deaths for men and women in the United States. Diagnosis and treatment of the disease can be tricky since symptoms often don’t appear until the cancer has spread. An initial symptom, for example, could be as serious as a seizure if the lung cancer has already spread to the brain. But other symptoms can include increased coughing, chest pain, unexplained weight loss, shortness of breath, wheezing, losing your voice or persistent infections like bronchitis or pneumonia.
The two main types of lung cancer are non-small cell, which makes up 85 percent of cases, and small-cell. These types act differently and, accordingly, require different types of treatment. Dr. Patrick Forde, a thoracic oncologist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, tells SurvivorNet about how distinguishing between the two types – and their subtypes – can be very beneficial.
“Within that non-small cell category, there’s a subtype called non-squamous adenocarcinoma, and that’s the group of patients for whom genetic testing is very important on the tumor,” he explains. “Genetic testing is looking for mutations in the DNA, in the tumor, which are not present in your normal DNA.”
Non-Smokers and Lung Cancer
Declining smoking rates have lead to an improved outlook for lung cancer since cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for the disease. In fact, The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention states that cigarette smoking is linked to about 80 to 90 percent 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 Kathy Griffin who’ve never smoked before can still get lung cancer. The CDC reports that in the United States, about 10 to 20 percent 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 in a previous interview. “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 percent 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 – a fact that Donna Hunting knows all too well.
Just like Griffin, Hunting was a non-smoker when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. But the active 54-year-old’s cancer had progressed further given that she had stage four non-small cell lung cancer.
“That day was shattering to my family and to me,” she previously told SurvivorNet. “It’s not a smokers’ disease. If you have lungs, you can get lung cancer.”
Fortunately for Hunting, testing revealed that her tumors had a mutation in a specific gene called EGFR. This meant that doctors were able to give her a pill to block those mutations and effectively rid her body of the disease.
“After 50 days, miraculously, my PET scan showed no evidence of disease,” she said.
Hunting was on took the drug for over a year, until it stopped working as well. Now she’s on a different daily medication, but – thanks to advancements in treatment – she’s able to live with the disease.
“Cancer is a part of my life now, but it isn’t my whole life. I’m not letting cancer define me,” Hunting said.