Ask nearly anyone what causes lung cancer and the answer you’ll get is “smoking.” For other cancers, you might hear “heredity,” but not for lung cancer. It is true that lung cancer isn’t necessarily passed down from generation to generation, but for some lung cancer patients, there is a family history of lung cancer.

An Incidental Finding of Lung Cancer

Every person who has ever heard the words, “You have lung cancer” has a story. For some, arriving at a diagnosis follows months or even years of troubling symptoms: a persistent cough, shortness of breath, hoarseness, bronchial issues, and/or unexplained weight loss. Others, like Terri Ann DiJulio, have no symptoms at all, rather they learn of their lung cancer almost by accident – an incidental finding. When Terri Ann was just 42 years old, during a visit to the emergency room – with symptoms unrelated to a lung cancer diagnosis – imaging detected a nodule in her lung. No one – including the medical team, suspected cancer. Terri Ann was young, healthy, and in great shape. The shock of discovering that it was lung cancer, surprised everyone. This, it would turn out, would be just the beginning of Terri Ann’s lung cancer journey.

Over the ensuing two years, the medical team kept a close watch on the nodule. Despite there being a 10% chance of malignancy, it was determined that surgery was necessary. After removing the lower lobe on the right side, Terri Ann was NED (no evidence of disease).

Family History of Lung Cancer Revealed

Eleven years later – in August of 2016 – imaging would reveal a new primary tumor and Terri Ann would be diagnosed with lung cancer for the second time. A third diagnosis would follow in 2021. Over those years, five other family members would receive their lung cancer diagnosis. To date, Terri Ann has lost her mother, aunt, and two uncles to lung cancer. Each person diagnosed in this multigenerational lung cancer family, except Terri Ann and one other relative, has succumbed to lung cancer.

These tremendous losses have made Terri Ann stronger and, perhaps even more noteworthy, have compelled her to become a fierce and formidable advocate, using her voice to change the narrative in the fight against lung cancer. Even though lung cancer kills more people than any other cancer, lung cancer inexplicably receives the least amount of research funding…by a large and unacceptable margin. Terri Ann – and her determination to create awareness, reduce stigma, and espouse the benefits of early detection – has become widely known and admired in the lung cancer community.

“I never want my niece, the next generation in my family, to hear the words ‘you have lung cancer’.”

Patient, Caregiver, and Advocate from a Family History of Lung Cancer

Through her nearly 20 years of being a lung cancer patient, caregiver, and advocate, Terri Ann is proud to have learned how to overcome serious challenges, simultaneously manage loss and illness, and raise awareness, support, and visibility within the lung cancer community. Among her many accomplishments, Terri Ann has addressed the United States Senate and House of Representatives on Capitol Hill, playing a significant role in helping impact legislation and federal funding related to lung cancer. Further, she has personally participated in a clinical trial that resulted in FDA approval.

Using Family History of Lung Cancer to Change Perceptions

Despite her long-standing lung issues, Terri Ann is an avid cyclist. By ingeniously combining her advocacy with her passion for the bike, she has not only played a significant role in changing the perception of lung cancer survivorship but has successfully used cycling as a way to fundraise for lung cancer. It should come as no surprise that her mantra is to “live the hell out of every single day.”

I’m using my lungs to advocate

As a member of LCFA’s Speakers Bureau, I’m advocating for research and raising awareness through the media, embodying hope and action.

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