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Lung Cancer Survivor: Women Must Pay Attention to Their Bodies

Lung cancer kills more than 400 people every day. (Dave-Les Jacobs/GettyImages)
Lung cancer kills more than 400 people every day. (Dave-Les Jacobs/GettyImages)
May 8, 2017

RACINE, Wis. – Only about 18 percent of lung cancer cases among women are diagnosed early, when the disease is most treatable and survival rates are five times higher.

This is National Women's Lung Health Week, which aims to raise greater awareness of the disease.

Lung cancer survivor Sandra Helmin-Clazmer is a nonsmoker and retired teacher from Racine. She's also recognized as the American Lung Association's 2017 Lung Force Hero for her tireless efforts to educate women about lung cancer risks and symptoms.

Helmin-Clazmer says many women are so focused on caring for others that they ignore the warning signs their bodies are giving them.

"They don't always pay attention to that little cough they may have, or 'Oh, I just have a little pain in my chest, it'll go away,'” she says. “It's just, 'I'm busy or I lifted the baby,' or you know, 'I did too much laundry.'"

Helmin-Clazmer was told by three doctors she just had asthma, but she persisted until a cancer specialist discovered a small lung tumor.

That was 30 years ago, and she says today, it's just as important to understand that lung cancer isn't only from smoking. It can be caused by exposure to secondhand smoke, radon, air pollution and other factors.

The American Lung Association says awareness of lung cancer is critically low among women – as 98 percent say it isn't one of their top-of-mind cancer concerns.

Helmin-Clazmer says women tend to focus on breast cancer rather than lung cancer.

"They don't associate that with the female gender,” she states. “They don't think they'll ever get it because, 'Oh, I'm a nonsmoker, I'll never get lung cancer.' Well, I was too. Lo and behold – 33, and here I had lung cancer."

In fact, anyone can get lung cancer, which kills more than 400 people every day.

Helmin-Clazmer says diagnosis and treatment have come a long way in the last 30 years – and so have public attitudes about smoking. She says even a night on the town has changed a lot.

"You didn't have a good time unless your clothes smelled like smoke, because every place had smoke,” she points out. “I feel very proud that we've made some gains. And I want women to be aware of the fact that they can get lung cancer, and it takes being diligent, and aware of your body."

If you are a smoker, there is help. The Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line number is 800-QUIT-NOW.


Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI