Debra Violette
Photo and text used with permission of Debra Violette.

I was 44 years old when I was first told I had lung cancer. Over the year leading to my diagnosis, I'd made several visits to the doctor, presenting with reoccurring lung infections. Then, in April of 1998 I started to cough up blood. My doctor told me not to worry about it and put me on yet another round of antibiotics and scheduled to see me later in the week. His words "don't worry" did not settle me; I knew that I had something more serious than a lung infection. I went for my appointment and was seen by the physician's assistant, who, after talking with me, decided to send me to the hospital to get an X-ray. My fears were confirmed when I was told I had lung cancer.

The ensuing weeks were filled with doctors' appointments and testing. Finally, I was told I had Stage III lung cancer. My course of treatment was to undergo chemotherapy, surgery to remove my right lower lobe, and radiation.

Through my journey with lung cancer, I knew that more needed to be done to help those diagnosed with the disease. I joined a national organization and lobbied Congress for more research funding. We were successful in securing money for lung cancer research to be managed by the Department of Defense. I went on to fundraise for another national organization before forming Free ME from Lung Cancer here in Maine. We are the only non-profit based in Maine that is dedicated to raising money for lung cancer research and early detection.

To date, I have represented lung cancer patients on a variety of panels, but my favorite is the work that I have done with the Department of Defense Lung Cancer Research Program (LCRP). While I confess that the review of grant proposals was daunting, the process was made manageable by the scientist assigned to guide me through it. It was rewarding to have the opportunity to be a voice at the table and know that I played a part in selecting the best proposals.

Research for lung cancer, a disease that takes more lives than any other cancer yet is woefully underfunded. The impact that LCRP funding has had on lung cancer research is tremendous and, I hope, just the beginning of what will be put toward eradicating lung cancer in our lifetime. We must continue to study this disease to ensure better treatment so that patients, like me, can live longer and better lives.

Last updated Wednesday, November 23, 2016