Atlanta, Ga. (November 20, 2013) – This Thanksgiving will mark one year since Samantha Mixon – a young, non-smoking, single mom to eight-year-old Karley – was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer after severe migraines brought her to Piedmont Henry Hospital. Mixon is part of a growing trend of young, non-smoking women being diagnosed seemingly out of the blue but doctors have not yet been able to figure out why.
At 33 years old, Mixon received not one, but two surprising diagnoses when doctors discovered a grey mass on her brain and immediately sent her to Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, where she had a brain tumor removed the next morning. A biopsy showed the brain tumor was actually a result of stage four non-small cell lung cancer having metastasized to the brain. Mixon, a non-smoker with no family history of the disease, was shocked.
“I was looking up my diagnosis and read there was a two percent chance of a five year survival rate for me,” said Mixon, whose symptoms - severe headaches, blurred vision and decreased depth perception - began not more than a month before her diagnosis and all could be attributed to the brain tumor. “But my nurse navigator told me not to look at the stats and that age was on my side.”
As if fighting stage four lung cancer wasn’t enough, Mixon has found herself battling her insurance company which has denied payment for her recent radiation treatments to the tune of $117,000. On top of that, she fights an age-old stereotype that lung cancer only affects those who smoke every time she tells someone her diagnosis.
“I think a lot of people have this misconception that lung cancer is just a smoker’s disease but that’s not true,” said Mixon. “It can happen to anyone. One of the hardest things I’ve had to do in life was explain this cancer to my eight-year-old daughter Karley. I told her that I was going to do my best to beat this, but I can’t promise I will.”
Studies show that the rate of lung cancer in non-smoking women like Mixon is on the rise.
“Unfortunately, we have no good reason why that is,” said Saeid Khansarinia, M.D., Piedmont Atlanta. “Plus, there is a generalized stigma attached with patients who are diagnosed – as if the diagnosis may be due to their behavior. What we have to do is forget about that stigma and start looking at the number one cancer in the United States. After heart disease, lung cancer is the largest killer in the country.”
Lung cancer causes more deaths than colon, breast and prostate cancer combined, according to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). Known risk factors for lung cancer are tobacco smoking, contact with radon, contact with asbestos or other cancer-causing agents, family history, diagnoses of certain other cancers and/or lung disease and contact with second-hand smoke.
In an effort to raise awareness about lung cancer and to share her journey with others, Mixon blogs about her battle with stage four non-small cell lung cancer. To keep up with her progress, visit samlmixon.blogspot.com. For more information about lung cancer and available treatment options, visit piedmont.org.