Mississippi lung cancer survivor advocates for research funding in Washington D.C.

Published: Apr. 19, 2023 at 7:03 PM CDT
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MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - One McComb, Mississippi woman is sharing her story of surviving lung cancer with the world. But the Meridian native is also using her voice to advocate for lung cancer research with lawmakers.

“People heard the word lung cancer and it was even more terrifying because people thought ‘people don’t survive that’ but we do,” said Mississippi Lung Force Hero and American Lung Association Volunteer, Nancy Smith.

In the Fall of 2014, Nancy Smith’s life changed forever. She first noticed a cough that wouldn’t go away, pain in her shoulder, and shortness of breath.

“A lot of times I think, especially working moms, busy. I thought, well I’ve just got a cold or it’s the flu so I went in and had a chest x-ray and it didn’t look good. It looked like I had pneumonia. One of the things about lung cancer is you need a CT scan to properly diagnose it. So I was treated for pneumonia for a few weeks and then I went back for a follow-up and nothing had changed,” said Smith.

That’s when Smith went in for a CT scan with contrast, where her doctors found a tumor on her left lung the size of a lemon in February 2015.

“One of the things that were a little disheartening at the time was even though I knew what my biomarker was there was no treatment for it. So, I had a couple of lung surgeries and they actually removed my entire left lung and I did some general chemo. So thank goodness the surgery at that time, is what saved my life. It really made me want to do more because lung cancer is still the number 1 cancer killer among men and women. The survival rate has improved over 30% over the last 5 years but at the time they were still very low and it was dishearting as a patient to think we don’t have any new drugs to treat this,” said Smith.

Now she’s currently the lung force hero for Mississippi. Smith recently went to Washington D.C. for the 3rd time to meet with members of Congress during the American Lung Association’s Lung Force Advocacy Day.

“Part of our goal in going to Washington is to say thank you to our legislatures who have done such an amazing job of finally putting some funding towards not just lung cancer but other cancers. So what we have found out with these immunotherapies and targeting therapies is that they not only work in helping lung cancer but they also work in colon cancer and melanomas so that has moved the needle in improving survival rates for a lot of different cancers,” said Smith.

She joined more than 40 other people across the country who have been impacted by lung cancer to ask lawmakers to support $51 billion in research funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), $11.6 billion in funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and to support and protect Medicaid.

“It’s just empowering to see a person from every single state on capitol hill wearing turquoise our color and giving them our stories of hope and also that everybody needs to have access to care. I think 25% of Mississippi’s lung cancer patients are dependent on Medicaid for their treatment so it’s very important that everyone has access to care and that important testing and also that low dose CT screenings,” said Smith.

Smith said since her diagnosis there are almost 20 new drug treatments for lung cancer.

Smith said when going through a cancer battle it’s nice to have other people who are walking in the same shoes as you for support. She said that’s why she hopes to mentor those diagnosed with lung cancer and be there as a resource.

To learn more about lung cancer research visit https://www.lung.org/ or https://www.lung.org/lung-force/lung-force-heroes/nancy-s to hear more about Nancy Smith’s story.