VANCOUVER, Wash. -- With each step she takes, Dawn Horner is beating the odds. And honestly, when you are diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, the odds aren’t too good.
“Stage four means the primary tumor has gone somewhere else in the body,” Dawn explains.
In Dawn's case, it has moved to her bones.
When Dawn’s husband asked her doctor how long she had to live, the answer was six months to a year. That was three years ago.
The Vancouver woman credits aggressive treatment and a fighting spirit, but she is the exception. According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. And even though lung cancer runs in her family, Dawn, never thought it would be her. “In the back of my mind I thought, there is no way. I eat healthy, I run, I’ve never smoked.”
Despite smoking being the number one risk factor for lung cancer, environmental and genetic factors can also play a role.
“Twenty percent of us never smoked, another 60 percent are former smokers,” Dawn said.
It’s a message that Dawn is determined to share. She often meets with other survivors and works with Lung Cancer Alliance pushing for earlier detection methods, better treatments and most of all more research dollars. Dawn says because of the connection to smoking and the judgment that comes with that, the money isn’t there.
“I think the research dollars aren’t coming because of the stigma and the blame game,” Dawn said.
The consequences are grim for smokers and non-smokers like Dawn. While the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is around 90 percent, it hovers near 20 percent for lung cancer. Dawn however, is used to beating the odds and isn’t about to give up now.
“I have a lot to live for,” said Dawn, “My son hasn’t graduated from college, and my girls are still single. There’s a lot of life to live and I’m not done.”