"Twenty Five"

Brittany's Battle, Inc.

25; this number by most accounts is rather large. 25 hours is longer than a day. 25 days is almost a month. A person can plan a wedding, plan a trip, have four tests and a paper all in 25 days; however, is 25 days long enough to learn you have cancer and fight it? Is 25 days long enough for you to live your last days in a hospital bed connected to a respirator, with every person praying for you; praying that by some miracle of God you will beat this disease and prove all the Dr.'s wrong? Is 25 days long enough for life to overcome death? From December 3rd 2006, the day Brittany Elizabeth Coppedge learned she had stage four-lung cancer, to December 28th 2006, the day she lost her hard fought battle, I saw many things. I watched my older brother hold the hand of the woman he loved as she fought for every breath; a mother give every ounce of love, support, and strength she had to her daughter to push her and keep her here with us; an eleven year old little sister learn to take her sister's temperature and read oxygen monitors; a grandfather who would have traded places with his granddaughter in a second. I saw a truly remarkable woman fight for every breath, for every second, for her very life. I saw my brother lose the love of his life all in 25 days. It only took 25 days for lung cancer to over power a 19 year old college Sophomore, 13 year competitive gymnast, non smoker, who never turned from a fight; however, she did live 23 days longer than the doctors had projected. In honor of her life and her battle a foundation was born to promote awareness about lung cancer and this is my purpose today.

Lung cancer usually takes years to develop and through its development precancerous changes will occur; however, they are not a mass or tumor and can't be seen on an x-ray and they don't cause symptoms. This is a part of the problem concerning lung cancer and what makes it so deadly. By the time doctors have discovered the lung cancer it has usually already spread throughout the lung and into other organs through the lymph system that is connected to your lungs. About 85% of all lung cancer cases are diagnosed in the later stages of this disease.

There are two forms of lung cancer and each attack the lung quickly and efficiently. There is small-cell and non-small cell lung cancer and under each of these there are specific sub forms. Depending on the form a person has and how the lymph system has been affected determines the treatment a person receives. Since this disease spreads so fast and attacks a vital organ all treatments are aggressive, such as surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy; however, lung transplants are almost never an option.

The support for this disease has been stunted due to the stereotypes we choose to believe. Yes smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer but it is not the only cause. At least 18,000 people this year will be diagnosed with lung cancer who have never picked up a cigarette, cigar, or pipe in their lives. The second leading cause of lung cancer is Radon, a gas that leaks from the soil into homes and offices through cracks and insulation. The environmental protection agency estimates that nearly 1 out of 15 homes has a high Radon level. Radon is responsible for 15,000-22,000 lung cancer deaths each year. Another cause is on-the-job hazards and pollution. The minute a person is exposed to cancer-causing chemicals their lungs begin to change. 1 in 13 men and 1 and 16 women have the chance of developing lung cancer in their lifetime and whether or not you are a smoker you are a part of this statistic.

About 213,380 new cases of lung cancer arise each year and out of these afflicted only 4 out of 10 will survive their first year. The 5-year survival rate for all lung cancers combined is only 13 15%, yet research shows that, if detected early, the 5-year survival rate could hit 80%. But the problem is there is no good way to test for lung cancer.

Lung cancer can escape x-rays, sputum or mucus tests, and CT scans and the symptoms for lung cancer do not show up until the advanced stages and are often subtle, such as chronic cough, hoarseness, weight loss, shortness of breath, fever, wheezing, chest pain, or coughing blood. 87% of lung cancer cases could be prevented or treated if we had proper screening and smoking was decreased, but unfortunately lung cancer has a lack of funding.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer related deaths among both men and women. If you were to combine the deaths from breast, colon, prostate, liver, and melanoma cancer the death total from lung cancer would still be larger. There are no more excuses for disregarding lung cancer. Lung cancer is increasing among women and already kills more than breast cancer yet breast cancer receives ten times the funding. We can no longer afford to be ignorant of this disease. I too was ignorant once. Since I was not a smoker, or for that matter, since Brittany was not a smoker, we were safe. Unfortunately my shroud of ignorance was shattered due to the death of this truly spectacular and irreplaceable woman.

No one would have guess Brittany had stage 4 lung cancer at 19. She was young, she was a non-smoker, and she was an athlete. Obviously we were all wrong. She only had 25 days. Quite literally one month she was teaching gymnastics and the next she was in the hospital fighting for her life. It all started with a cough she couldn't escape and she was told it was bronchitis. Suddenly over thanksgiving her chest tightened and began to hurt so she went to the hospital and just never came out. The x-rays and sputum tests all missed Brittany's lung cancer. It took an open lung biopsy to discover what she had and by then nothing could be done. 25 days is an unbelievably short amount of time. If you think about it there are only 25 days till Christmas in December; the Amazing Race has its contestants go through 50 cities in 25 days. 25 is a rather small number. It is the age my brother is turning this year. It is the age Brittany will never see because of lung cancer.

Written by Chelsea Harmon