A Decades-Long Career
- English blues and rock singer Joe Cocker died from small-cell lung cancer seven years ago today at 70 years old.
- Although Cocker unfortunately lost his battle with cancer, the legendary musician was able to live a very full life with a decades-long successful career, thanks to his wife who got him back on his feet from drug and alcohol indulgences.
- Experts urge past and present smokers to get in and get screened for the disease, as early-stage lung cancer can be treatable.
Though the legendary musician lost his battle with the disease, he lived a long life with a career spanning 50 years and 40 albums.Read More
“It will be impossible to fill the space he leaves in our hearts,” Cocker’s then-agent Barrie Marshall commented to the BBC.
After emerging onto the American music scene following his memorable 1969 Woodstock performance with tunes such as Feelin’ Alright and With a Little Help from My Friends, a raspier version of Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s original.
Unfortunately, the talented musician fell into a deep hole of drugs and alcohol in the 1970s.
“If I’d been stronger mentally, I could have turned away from temptation,” Cocker admitted in a 2013 interview. “But there was no rehab back in those days. Drugs were readily available, and I dived in head first. And once you get into that downward spiral, it’s hard to pull out of it. It took me years to get straight.”
Cocker described himself as a mere beer-drinker from Sheffield, England. “Then I was thrown into the world of American rock,” he said. “The first few years were fine. I was touring the States with Hendrix and Janis Joplin. I never knew what the next day would bring. But things began to deteriorate in 1972.”
Cocker’s comeback finally came in the form of mainstream hit, Up Where We Belong, the theme song from the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman starring Richard Gere. The romantic power ballad—a duet with singer Jennifer Warnes—won Cocker a Grammy Award. (The song also won an Oscar for best original song, awarded to the songwriters.) Cocker credited his wife Pam Baker Cocker with helping him stay on the straight and narrow.
“She made me think positively,” Cocker shared. “I was very down on myself. She made me realize people still wanted to hear me sing, and convinced me I could escape the downward spiral.”
Cocker “kept going” and also credited his European fans with helping him up from his fall from grace.
“In America, I’d become a cartoon character, but my European fans were loyal,” he said. “Even when I was at my most crazed, throwing my shoes into the crowd at gigs, they stuck with me. That helped me to rediscover my focus.”
Pam was there until the end; Cocker died at their Colorado home. And thanks to the beauty of music, his creative contributions and fans are everlasting.
Treatment for Advanced Stage Lung Cancer
Treatment options for lung cancer will depend on the stage and clinical characteristics of the cancer. Treatment options in stage four cancer can include chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy – or some combination.
The goal of treatment of stage four lung cancer is to provide therapy that is systemic, meaning it goes everywhere in the body so that it can attack all the cells that have spread. The most common form of systemic therapies includes chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy. Specifically in patients with small cell lung cancer, like Cocker, treatment options for stage four lung cancer are a combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
Of course, the goal is to stay ahead of an advanced stage diagnosis.
An Important Message for Smokers
With lung cancer, early detection is essential. The sooner doctors catch this cancer, the more likely that treatment will be successful. Early-stage lung cancers that are removed with surgery may even be curable. But all too often, lung cancer isn’t detected until it has already spread and it’s more difficult to treat.
“In about 70 to 80% of patients who are diagnosed with lung cancer, unfortunately the cancer has spread outside of the lung and is not suitable for surgery,” Dr. Patrick Forde, thoracic oncologist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, tells SurvivorNet.
CT Screening Saves Lives
One very effective way to find lung cancers early is with a low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan. This test uses a very small amount of radiation to create highly detailed pictures of your lungs. It can reveal cancer long before your first symptom appears.
A study published in the February 2020 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine found that former and current longtime smokers ages 50 to 74 who had low-dose CT scans were less likely to die from lung cancer (24% lower risk in men and 33% lower risk in women) than those who didn’t have this test.
People who are at high risk for lung cancer because of their smoking history should receive free annual screenings with a low-dose CT scan starting at age 50 regardless of whether they have symptoms, according to new recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released earlier this year.
Experts tell SuvivorNet the news is a step in the right direction.
“The expansion of lung screening eligibility is a direct reflection of the growing body of research showing that lung screening saves lives,” Dr. Kim Sandler, assistant professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences and co-director of the Vanderbilt Lung Screening Program, tells SurvivorNet. “It is imperative that we continue to raise awareness for lung cancer screening and these new eligibility guidelines so that we can detect lung cancer at its earliest stage when people can be cured.”
The new guidelines specify that adults ages 50-80 who have a 20 pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years should qualify for the screening. (One pack-year is the equivalent of smoking an average of 20 cigarettes, or one pack, per day for a year.)
Previous guidance from the USPSTF released in 2013 recommended annual screening for lung cancer in adults aged 55-80 who have a 30 pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.