Monster Cookies & Stigma Kool-Aid – The Deadliest Combo of All


The following is a guest post by lung cancer activist and caregiver, Jennifer Windrum in support of Lung Cancer Awareness Month. She is founder of the “WTF? Where’s the Funding for Lung Cancer?” movement that chronicles her Mom’s journey with the disease to increase awareness and funding for lung cancer.LIVESTRONG is about the people affected by cancer – every kind of cancer. Help end cancer stigma and share this with your friends and family.

Leslie Lehrman with Hope & NED

By Jennifer Windrum

This is my Mom, Leslie Lehrman. She’s 68 years-young and a cancer survivor. While in the hospital (this time with radiation pneumonitis), a friend and fellow cancer survivor posted this message under one of my Facebook status updates about my Mom:

“I have a new favorite cookie. It’s ‘the Leslie.’ It’s the toughest one I’ve ever seen.”
– Bob LeDrew

That is now officially my Favorite. Quote. Ever. While Bob battles bladder cancer, he continues to follow my Mom’s very public fight with Stage IV inoperable lung cancer. She has never smoked a day in her life. None. Zippo. Nada. Zero. Yes, you might want to re-read that last sentence…and then definitely read on.

Monster Cookies For All!
All cancer patients/survivors have to be made of steel to get through all the chaos this disease brings to them and their families. It MORE than sucks. Imagine, then, being a lung cancer patient, where probably the biggest and most painful side-effect comes not from chemo or radiation, but from society itself: STIGMA. No, no, no, no….don’t tune out or run away. I asked you to imagine being a lung cancer patient for a very good reason. It could be you.

Lung cancer is equal opportunity these days. It can strike ANYONE – no smoking required. All you need are lungs. Yep, it’s that simple…and that evil.

In cookie-speak, lung cancer is the largest ever monster cookie. All of those M&M’s, their bright and varied colors, represent each of us – our diversity – and now lump us all together into one cluster. Not even Ms. Green can escape.

This disease and its attached-at-the-hip stigma is killing more of us than any other cancer (more than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined). That’s right, it’s the #1 cancer killer of both men and women (more than 160,000/year), yet it remains the the LEAST funded of the four major cancers by a LONG shot. Stigma. And, apparently, WE are all OK with this. What the heck does that mean? I’ll get there.

First, more key ingredients you need to know:

  • 80% of people diagnosed with lung cancer are people who have never smoked or former smokers who quit decades ago.
  • The survival rate – It’s virtually remained unchanged for 40 years at just 15%.
  • Early detection screening? Yeah, seems like it should be a no-brainer, right? Nope. No standard screenings yet.

Oh, get this – Dr. Apar Ganti, an oncologist who specializes in lung cancer at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, says these monsters are mashing.

“We are finding that what we call lung cancer is actually multiple separate diseases that behave similarly. We have seen the characteristics of “never-smoker lung cancer,” i.e. specific gene mutations even in people who have smoked.”

Absolutely frightening.

Stigma: Half-Baked Excuse
It makes absolutely no sense. It boggles my mind beyond comprehension. It defies logic on so many levels. How can we possibly think we are, or can, conquer the war on cancer by continuing to ignore the biggest cancer killer of both men and women? Lung cancer accounts for 30% of all cancer deaths. Chew on that for just a second – 30% of ALL cancer deaths.

Oh, that’s right…that stigma thing gives us a great excuse to keep putting reality off. It’s not a popular, comfy or easy topic, you know. It’s controversial, highly political, divisive, doesn’t win elections and frankly, it’s big business. So, it’s just more convenient for the majority of our government, the medical community and the public at large to grab that stigma crutch and hope they can lean on it a little while longer. Sorry. Time is up. Monsters don’t “do” convenient.

On top of all of this, WE continue to perpetuate this stigma, preventing lung cancer from becoming the national priority it should be and allowing lung cancer patients and their families to continue experiencing incredible shame, guilt, disgrace and isolation.

Here are just two examples of this stigma in action. Elizabeth and Brooke’s stories are “normal” in the lung cancer world.

“My mother passed away in July after almost three years of fighting…we always credited her doctors at MD Anderson for the extra time. Luckily, we didn’t encounter the stigma that often. But toward the very end, after she did a bronchoscopy, the doctor who did the bronchoscopy (we’d never met her before) came in to give my mother the results. She started asking about family history – my mother told her that her father died of LC at the age of 37 – the doctor asked if he smoked, Mom said yes, and the doctor said, “well, what did you expect? you smoked too.” it is one thing to feel stigmatized by people who may be ignorant or may not know very much about lung cancer, but to hear something like that from a doctor is just disheartening.”

“My mom died of lung cancer 6 years ago. She was only 47 years old. Every single time I tell anyone I lost my mom to lung cancer they assume she was a smoker. I’ve even had people shake their heads at me and say “So young to have done that to herself.”
– Brooke

So, I ask again. Are we really OK with all of this? I’m dead serious. How can anyone think another human being actually deserves cancer? Can we honestly look at these faces and believe, with a clear conscience, that the state of lung cancer is acceptable?

You say, “Yeah, but it’s really more complex than that.” No, it really isn’t:

Some people who smoke get lung cancer. Some people who smoke don’t get lung cancer. Some people who have smoked get lung cancer. Some people who have smoked don’t get lung cancer. Some people who have never smoked get lung cancer.

Again, these “some people” are you, me, my Mom and more than 220,000 who will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year.
The blame game is over. Stop drinking the stigma Kool-Aid. Crush the monster cookie.

I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve thought, “Ok, this is it. This is the end.” Somehow, my Mom stands up, wipes off the crumbs and starts over again.

“The Leslie,” indeed.

To learn more about lung cancer and how you can help make lung cancer a national priority, please visit The Lung Cancer Alliance is dedicated to patient support and advocacy for people living with lung cancer and those at risk for the disease.


  1. CRizz01 says:

    I hope you get better soon, LIVESTRONG… attitude and effort make up half the battle.

  2. Markus says:

    Big love, good health and endless happiness…! LiveStrong
    Markus/The Fitness Underground Los Angeles

  3. Marcbybyers says:

    What great comments. My mom died of another type of cancer that comes from smoking. It starts in the lymph nodes and moves to the lungs. She had quit smoking over 15 years before. She was not a bad person. She had a bad habit for awhile. Cancer is a horrible disease that needs to be cured for all.

  4. Jfenske says:

    I’m struggling with a second diagnosis with lung cancer after have one lung removed last year. I have other health issues that prevent me from recieving radiation treatment and don’t want to go though another surgery that didn’t cure me the first time. The shame and blame game of this form of cancer hurts me more than the disease itself. No one deserves to die of this regardless of previous lifestyle choices they may have made. I hope healthy eating and meditation can bring me to better health and healing I haven’t found elsewhere yet. I believe the power of my mind and strong will to live can beat this disease.

  5. Keksand says:

    You will be Well and Good !!

    Live Strong .. !!

  6. Kelly Seitz says:

    God Bless you, Jennifer & your awesome mother!!! You’re both so inspiring and are bringing awareness to the true facts of MOST cancers! I am a 34 yr old 4 yr breast cancer survivor – I had 0 risk factors from the disease, aside from actually having breasts! :) .. Even people that know me well sometimes ask questions like, did I ever smoke or have I had to change my diet? You’re absolutely correct that people just don’t believe it simply happens. I will keep Leslie & your family in my prayers. It’s an honor to know so many awesome survivors. Thanks for sharing!!!

  7. Nina L says:

    My husband died at 65 after a two year battle with lung cancer. He was a brilliant researcher with work left to do, a wonderful husband and father, and he left without seeing his grandchildren grow up. Almost every person I tell, ask if he smoked. Well, yes he did, but that did not make him deserving of this terrible disease.
    I am trying to tell the true story of lung cancer, the high percentage of non smokers, the low funding and the numbers of young people affected. I am greeted with disbelief, usually ” but it’s breast cancer that kills most women”
    Please LIVESTRONG, get the word out on this killer, and get some real funding started

  8. Beth Kinne says:

    thank you for bringing this to light. it both inspires and enrages me. my grandmother died of lung cancer and was a smoker. she was misdiagnosed as having tuberculosis, was in a sanitorium for months and by then, the cancer was caught too late. she was 66. my mother died of cancer. she was a smoker and was getting frequent x-rays/screenings for lung cancer by her very diligent internist and pulmonologist. she died of cancer but it was of the adrenal gland. because she was a smoker, they never thought to check anywhere else for cancer except her lungs. she had a tumor that enveloped her inferior vena cava that was inoperable. she was 71. in this day and age when more attention is given to erectile dysfunction than what causes 30% of cancer deaths is ludicrous. assuming that all lung cancer is attributable to smoking is like saying that those who get alzheimers haven’t read enough books. even IF someone who is a smoker gets lung cancer, for pete’s sake, i challenge anyone to show me a person that hasn’t knowingly done something that could potentially be dangerous to their health. ok maybe a newborn. but i’m sure they can find something to pin on their mother.

  9. Darren says:

    Amazing …… thank you and sending you warm love from Northamptonshire, England x

  10. nickhuhn says:

    The fighting spirit in you two women is amazing! I love the inspiration you provide for everyone who has been impacted by this unjust plague and unwarranted stigma. Keep fighting! 😀

  11. Jackie says:

    Absolutely amazing, my mother is a stage 4 lung cancer patient (fighter). This article is wonderful, thank you for continuing to help raise awareness about the “stigmas” related to lung cancer! I too, find myself when telling people about her cancer feel I HAVE to say she was and is a NON smoker! My brother, sister and myself are very passionate about educating people about Radon, lung cancer and the many factors that can cause it. We live in Louisville Kentucky and this Saturday Nov.19th we are hosting a fundraiser to educate and raise money for research! If you are interested in learning more about my mom or our event check out our website

    Thank you

  12. Chris Davis says:

    Strong statement: “How can anyone think another human being actually deserves cancer?” Let’s help stop the world from drinking the stigma Kool-Aid

  13. Thank you all soooo much for your amazing words of strength and encouragement for my Mom. Thank you LIVESTRONG for the opportunity to share my Mom’s story and to help spell out what lung cancer truly is and what it isn’t. My Mom is so brave for allowing me to share her story – the good, bad, ugly and worse than ugly. That is a blessing. Keep up the fight and hugzzz to you all.

  14. Patdunn91 says:

    Great article jennifer,Thank you

  15. Mjesiouxfalls says:


    VERY WELL SAID! You always amaze me with your never ending advocacy. Your mother is blessed to have a daughter like you fighting for her survival. As a non-smoker living with lung cancer, I feel blessed to have you in my corner fighting for my survival as well as the survival of my many many fighting teammates. We will keep shouting until the whole world hears! WTF?

    Thanks for everything you do!
    Matt J. Ellefson

  16. Tinu says:

    Thank you so much for the education, Jennifer. Especially about the stigma, that information is incredible. Where is the funding indeed.

  17. Kimith45 says:

    Jen, you make me so very proud! Aunt Kim

  18. All I can do today is cry. Yes I smoked, back then everyone smoked! It was glamurous to smoke. All the stars did it, all the rockers did it. We were so cool. Even doctors did ads telling us which cigrettes were better for us to smoke. So now almost 40 yrs after buying into the glamour I am dying, I have so much to live for but we have done everything we can humanly do to beat this horrible monster called Lung Cancer. I will fight on till my death, NO-ONE DESERVES LUNG CANCER!!! Smoker or non-smoker the world has to step down from their rightious pedestal & start to reach out to lung cancer, they need to give the research $$$ so that Lung Cancer can have early detection, early treayment & a CURE!! I know it will not happen in my lifetime .. but what about our kids & grandchildren? Do we want them to face this,,,Down with the stigma & UP for a Cure!!!
    Love you Leslie & Jen xoxoxo

  19. I was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer in 2002 when I was 37. my doctor told me I only had a 20% change of making it two years and after that only about 15% to make it to five. In 2003 it showed up in my abdomen. It’s 2011 and I’m still here and cancer free.
    I’ve never told anyone that I had lung cancer where they didn’t ask immediately if I had been a smoker, so I started responding with “Why should that matter? Do I deserve cancer because I did?” They usually had the sense to look ashamed after that.

  20. Golk75 says:

    Nice post, Great to see all the support

  21. Ansley Tillman says:

    My mom died of lung cancer on August 3rd, 2010. She was only 61 years old. She smoked BRIEFLY when she was in her teens. I consider her a non-smoker. My mom was an avid tennis player, walked every day, ate the right foods, took all the vitamins recommended for someone her age… she was a vibrant, healthy person. UNTIL THE LUNG CANCER DIAGNOSIS. She had Stage II b Lung Cancer. 10 months after the diagnosis we found out it had spread to her brain. This was devastating. Lung cancer turned my spunky, petite mom into someone who could not walk, speak in full sentences and could not care for her own needs. My 89 year old grandmother was in better shape than she was. Once she died, we were relieved she was out of constant pain. I miss my sweet momma. Especially with the holidays approaching. I will forever be haunted by lung cancer. IT IS ON THE ATTACK and I think we need to find out what the heck is causing lung cancer in non-smokers. WE NEED FUNDING!!!! God bless you and your mom’s fight with this awful disease. Lung cancer or not, your mom is a tough cookie!!

  22. Jan Daniel says:

    I think this message is so important. ANYONE can get lung cancer. That cannot be stressed enough. However…if someone does have lung cancer and they smoked, they are suffering enough. They do not need ignorant comments, insensitive statements. I do not smoke, my sister Donna did. She died after hard & long fight with LC. However, 20+ yrs earlier, she had non hodgkins lymphoma, Back than she rec’d massive doses of radiation. Drs believe that is what caused her cancer. Same locations as her radiation sites. Today, those high radiation levels are no longer used. However, on her death bed, medical “professionals” ( I use that term loosely) were still commenting,” you shouldn’t have smoked, when will people learn”. During her chemo treatments she called the number provided for cancer patients for rides…she was told, oh LC, sorry we only transport breast cancer patients. They sold enough pink ribbon items to be more generous with their allocations of funds and sensitivity. It was RUDE. My sister saw the difference in how she was treated with her previous cancer and than with LC. It broke my heart to listen to her. Keep the message going, you are changing lives. My best to your Mom…”The Leslie”

  23. Shel says:

    Everyone has a vice-whether it be smoking, drinking, using bad language, driving too fast, etc. For people to be judged because they got a disease is very sad. My mom has small cell lung cancer and when she was first diganosed and in the hospital (very ill), her original specialist’s physician’s assistant said to her “So, are you done smoking now?” As if at that moment she needed guilt on top of being deathly ill. Nobody deserves cancer and those who do get it, regardless of their lifestyle, do not deserve to be judged. Did mom smoke? Yes. Is that all there is to her? Absolutely not. She is still fighting hard now (16 months) after being told she’d never make it out of the hospital in Sept 2010. God bless tough cookies like her… bless them, don’t judge them!

  24. Darci says:

    I have followed your blog since my dad was diagnosed in March 2012. I commend you and admire you for your dedication to this awful disease. Having said that there have been times I’ve been brought to tears reading your blog because while lung cancer unfortunately does happen to people that haven’t smoked it most often happens to those that have.
    My dad is the most amazing, supportive and wonderful man in the world and he was a smoker for 45 years. Does that make him less of a person because he did? Absolutely not! I am not a smoker and neither are either of my brothers and probably because we didn’t like the fact that my dad smoked while we were growing up. As I sat there in the hospital and listened to the Dr. tell us that he had Stage IV inoperable lung cancer my world came crashing down around me. Do you think for one minute I was upset at him for smoking…No. The reason was because can you imagine the amount of guilt he was feeling at that moment? The past is the past and he can’t change it. He had stopped smoking 4 years prior to his diagnosis.
    I have found the most offensive question I get after someone learns that my dad has lung cancer is, “Did he smoke?” and then they nod as if it’s okay. It’s not okay. It doesn’t make it “easier” on him, my mom or anyone that loves him.
    I’ve started to write numerous times and stopped and today I’ve decided that I know you care about all lung cancer patients and we all need to be aware of the different aspects of this disease. Keep fighting for funding and I will do my part as well. From one lung cancer daughter to another…keep fighting! Your mom is always in my prayers.

    1. Hi Darci. Thank you so much for writing to me. I completely understand your sadness and frustration. In my mind, I don’t care if anyone smoked or not. Lung cancer is lung cancer. No one should be treated differently. Unfortunately, as we both know, that’s not the case. Sure, smoking can be a cause, but it can be a cause for many illnesses, too. There are smokers who get the non-smoker type of lung cancer. It’s crazy. It shows you just how much we still don’t know about lung cancer and how much more research needs to be done. There is so much more to lung cancer than smoking. Regardless, NO ONE deserves it. You betcha, we will continue to fight together. We have to. How is your dad doing? Please give him a huge hug from me and let him know we are fighting for him and so many others. Again, THANK YOU for sending this message. Much love to you and your family, Darci. Jen

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