I know we’re talking about lung cancer with 2016 World Cancer Day arriving.

I know that no one is comfortable talking about lung cancer. It’s the elephant in the room, about “moving the needle” and, of course, “white is the new pink”—all efforts to talk about lung cancer. In recent weeks, there has been a lot more to talk about. The most exciting talk is about the “moon shot” effort and the influx of governmental support and eventually a whole lot of research funding to find cancer treatments and cures.

My story, Jillian’s story, sadly, is not unusual or exceptional: being 28 at diagnosis and passing away just 10 months later at 29. When Jillian first felt a swollen lymph node, the farthest thing from her mind and ours was cancer. Any cancer. Lung Cancer. She had done everything on a “normal” schedule: wanted a boyfriend way too soon—after all, daughters aren’t supposed to date until they’re 40, are they? Homecoming dances, proms, summer jobs, college…Check, check, check. Jillian getting cancer was in no way on anyone’s radar or in her dreams!

But there it was…ultrasound to biopsy to minor surgery to remove a lymph node. We were talking—that is, my husband to our sons—but for the life of me I can’t remember talking to Jillian. Really talking to her. There we were: Jillian, her ENT doctor and me in the exam room as he prepped her for the fine needle biopsy. He talked about thyroid cancer. I asked a few questions. But I can’t hear Jillian. I see her sitting there, nervous and anxious. Did she ask any questions with me in the room? I don’t remember. We talked a little afterwards but not much about the “what ifs”—all just mundane daily chitchat. I guess there was some relief that her doctor felt it would be something he could take care of. Jillian could live without her thyroid, many people do. We didn’t focus on cancer. We didn’t talk cancer talk.

Results came in and required more tests and surgery. “We” weren’t talking…we were just doing and going at light speed to figure out what was happening. There was the surgery day, and her best friends were there with us, and neither of them were talking. Where was Jillian? Why wasn’t she talking? Or was she, and we just weren’t prepared to listen? Then the OMG: a sucker punch to the gut when we’re sitting in another exam room with her ENT, a nurse and a computer screen showing lots of glowing spots. The doctor started talking about a tough year ahead. The nurse talked about a cloud being overhead and moving it around day by day. Jillian didn’t talk. “We” talked to Jillian about coming up to Tampa for a second opinion. “We” talked about moving to Miami if that would be best for Jillian. What did Jillian say? “We” talked to friends and colleagues about next steps. And “we” talked Jillian into coming to Tampa for a second opinion. Looking back it was “we”—we talked. Not Jillian talked.

One thing I remember was sitting at Moffitt Cancer Center in the Endocrine Clinic and hearing her talk about what color ribbon “her cancer” would have so that she could “join the club.” A white ribbon was not on our mind. That day, hearing she had lung cancer, she asked the doctor what should she do next. She listened and shortly thereafter, we all left. Jillian went back to Miami to deal with the news by herself. I can’t believe we let her go...drive for hours alone…with enough time to think of all the dreams she had to change and leave behind. We didn’t talk.

Now almost 3 years after all that, I try as hard as I can to remember if we talked about lung cancer to Jillian regularly. I know she and I spoke during an online conversation to educate ourselves—well, me in particular —so that I could learn about diet, nutrition and exercise. She had to be as strong as possible so she could fight this disease. It’s not that we didn’t talk. It’s that I can’t remember talking with Jillian about her life and lung cancer.

Now, I’m talking. In the last year, I’ve talked a lot about lung cancer—so much so that my family felt like they had lost me to this disease as well. I attended conferences; spoke a few times in public about lung cancer with my layman’s knowledge. I wanted to start a national movement to change people’s perceptions, to bring the major “players” together to get on the national scene like breast cancer. Let’s face it—lung cancer isn’t pretty, sexy, pink, well funded or noticed. The only thing lung cancer has going for it is a stigma based on lack of knowledge and compassion, which I am so over.

Then, somehow, funds raised in 2014 to 2015 by Jillian’s Dream along with many other lung cancer research organizations helped discover seven new drugs for lung cancer patients. Awesome! New discoveries. New therapies. New hope. And in the blink of an eye, in a speech that most people wouldn’t ever admit they watched or heard, we have “moon shot” poised to jump start research funding to find cures for cancer. Yes, that includes lung cancer. Chatter is amplified. There is renewed federal support 45 years after the first National Cancer Act of 1971 was passed.

Yes, there is new hope. I’d like to think that Jillian’s effort and courage was a part of this new hope. The talk about doubling survival by 2022 is more possible today. Making lung cancer chronic by 2023—doable? Who knows, but it’s more hopeful now than ever before because we are talking about lung cancer. And I, for one, will keep talking and talking and talking….

Stronger than lung cancer…

Ros Miller