Texas attorney Charles Florsheim is familiar with building and presenting a strong defense. After his lung cancer diagnosis, he took offense to, in a way, having to defend himself.
"As I went through the process of treatment, I learned how underfunded research was with regard to this disease and how it was basically ignored, primarily because of its association with smoking," Charles said. "Being a never smoker, I was offended by the attitude everyone had about the disease and it made me very mad."
One example of the attitude, Charles said, came the day after his surgery. As he was receiving a breathing treatment, Charles' daughter heard a respiratory therapist say under her breath, 'That's what you get for smoking.'
"Need I say more about why I believe the stigma," Charles said.
Charles expressed appreciation and admiration for his treatment before, during, and after his surgery. UT Southwestern Medical Center has a practice of keeping cancer patients informed and involved throughout the treatment process; this allowed Charles to maintain direct lines of communication with an oncologist and surgeon, as well as their respective staffs.
"After my treatment, I determined that I would do whatever it took to help educate the public about the nature of the disease, the fact that it is the biggest cancer killer, and a true danger to everyone, not just smokers," Charles said. "I felt that I was diagnosed early for a reason - to get involved."
And get involved he did. In just the past three years, Charles has worked with the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group - American College of Radiology Imaging Network Cancer Research Group (ECOG-ACRIN), LUNGevity, the National Lung Partnership, the Moncrief Cancer Institute at UT Southwestern, the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer, and the UT Southwestern SPORE in Lung Cancer.
Through his work with LUNGevity and the National Lung Cancer Partnership, Charles was nominated to be a peer reviewer for the Department of Defense Lung Cancer Research Program, a role for which he served from 2009 - 2011. Charles said the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process of cutting-edge research is what intrigued him.
"Serving as a peer review gave me a chance to make a very big difference in the fight against lung cancer," Charles said. "Being a veteran myself, I especially like the fact that it is under the auspices of the military. I have great concerns about lung disease in our troops coming home from serving in such polluted areas of the world."
Having his opinions heard and respected, Charles said, helped him realize that he truly is a voice for lung cancer patients. Whether on review panels or in some other role, he plans to continue his advocacy efforts.
"There are so very few lung cancer survivors out here and of those so few who were diagnosed early as I was and are physically able to carry on this fight," Charles said. "I am passionate and dedicated to this effort. Advocacy has become my purpose in life."