Cassy Morris thought she was suffering from a simple back problem.

cassymorris/Instagram

As the mom of three from Australia wrote on Kidspot, she had gone to her doctor because of her frequent back pain. When initial treatments didn’t help and an X-ray came back negative, the osteopath suggested an MRI might find what was causing Cassy’s back issue. But the general practitioner resisted. Cassy wrote:

Although my X-ray didn’t show anything concerning, my Osteopath wanted to investigate further and insisted I request an MRI. I went to see a different GP and again was faced with resistance. She tried to talk me out of it, saying it was expensive and unnecessary, fortunately for me, I have trust in my Osteopath and I insisted on the referral.

The MRI discovered a nodule in one of Cassy’s lungs. After more tests, a referral to a respiratory specialist, and a biopsy, Cassy received devastating news: What she thought was a back problem was actually stage 4 lung cancer.

As she sat in the doctor’s office with her husband, Kane, Cassy tried to come to terms with the fact that she — a 43-year-old nonsmoker — had just received a life-threatening diagnosis. She wrote:

It was an outer body [sic] experience, I felt as though the Doctor was talking about someone else. How could this be about me? I’m healthy, I don’t smoke, I’m young. How can I have lung cancer?

I asked the doctor if it was anywhere beyond my lungs and lymph nodes.

“Yes,” he replied “It’s stage four lung cancer. It’s in your spine, which explains your back pain, in your liver, pelvis, lymph nodes and lungs.”

Though her husband was in tears, Cassy’s first reaction was denial and the determination to be there for her daughters:

I was stunned and silent, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My first reaction was NO this is not going to be the end of me. I’ve got three young daughters who need me, they need me for a long time. I need to be here for them; I’m not going anywhere. I want to see them grow, I want to see Harper start school, I want to see them finish school, I want to see them get married and have their own kids. I need to be here!

Kane was understandably beside himself, he could not understand it and kept saying that I can’t leave him and that this was so unfair. He just couldn’t stop crying and shaking as we both sat there feeling numb from shock.

The next day, Cassy kept her daughters home from school and tried to enjoy a fun family day together before breaking the news. But that only made it more difficult to explain what was going on:

Telling them was one of the hardest moments of my life. They knew I was sick and I had back pain, but we decided that they should know everything. I told the girls that the doctors did know what was wrong with Mummy and that it is cancer.  I told them that I’m ok and that I’m strong and I’m not going anywhere.

“Are you going to die soon?” Kiara asked me. “Will you be here when I’m older?”

I struggled to hold it together because I couldn’t answer her question, no one could.

Since then, Cassy has been undergoing targeted treatment. So far, things are going well, and the tumors have been shrinking. But Cassy has also learned how much of a stigma there is around lung cancer.

cassymorris/Instagram

Because lung cancer is associated with smoking, it comes with the assumption that victims should have known they were at risk. But the stereotype isn’t necessarily true. Cassy wrote:

I have never smoked a day in my life. My parents never smoked, my husband doesn’t smoke. I’m not around passive smoke or other environmental risks (such as asbestos). I was just unlucky and got lung cancer.

According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer makes up about 13 percent of all cancer diagnoses. With 1.8 million cases around the world in 2012 (leading to 1.6 million deaths), it is the most common cancer in the world. Moreover, while the rate of lung cancer among men has dropped 32 percent over the past four decades, it has risen 94 percent for women in that same period.

As Oprah.com reports, lung cancer among never-smokers (that is, people who have smoked less than 100 cigarettes in their life) accounts for one-fifth of new diagnoses among American women. And some studies suggest that number is rising. In fact, if lung cancer in nonsmokers was a separate category, it would still be one of the 10 most deadly cancers in the U.S.

Part of the problem is that the symptoms of lung cancer resemble common issues such as colds, allergies, or mild injury. That’s why the American Lung Association recommends that you talk to your doctor about whether you are at risk for lung cancer, especially if you experience any of the common symptoms:

  • A persistent cough that gets worse over time (and doesn’t go away)
  • Regular chest pain
  • Wheezing, shortness of breath
  • Frequent bouts of pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Hoarseness
  • Coughing up blood

If the cancer has begun spreading to the rest of the body, symptoms may also include:

  • Headaches
  • Blood clots
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fractures or bone pain.

And remember that you can get lung cancer even if you’ve never touched a cigarette. As Cassy wrote:

“I’m telling you my story to show you that anyone can get lung cancer and we need to stop the stigma.”

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