Diagnosis: Lung Cancer Part One

AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - "I was diagnosed almost 20 years ago with stage III non-small cell lung cancer. And, I was given a 10% chance of living two years," says Deb Violette.

She was understandably was scared for her life.

"I was frightened. I was scared. And everywhere I looked there was no information on lung cancer," she says.

Deb beat the lung cancer, and she was determined to do something about the lack of resources and support for lung cancer patients.

She found success working with another organization but still wanted to do more closer to home.

"I raised over $75,000 and all of the money raised left the state. Not that that was a bad thing, but there wasn't anything for Maine people," she says.

Deb decided to start her own foundation and in 2012, with some help from a few friends, Free ME From Lung Cancer was born.

"I had to step up and do the fundraising and program development, but everything came along and we were successful over the last few years," she says.

Her foundation is helping in more ways than one. They're getting out there in the community to reach others who have received the same lung cancer diagnosis she did, but she's giving them and their loved ones an outlet they may not normally get.

"The stigma is so strong, Morgan. It's sometimes terrifying," she says.

That stigma and shame causing major hurdles for lung cancer patients.

"We don't have a lot of lung cancer patients coming out and speaking up about this because of the stigma," she says.

Stigma leading to lack of support and research.

"I'm 64. I was raised in secondhand smoke in schools. When I was in school, teachers smoked in the school. They opened the room and smoke could be billowing through the hallway. It was everywhere, even on public transportation. Did that do it? Did the radon do it? Did the fact that I caved into peer pressure in high school and smoked, I don't know," she says.

The stigma can be a sad and frightening reality.

"Maine is also one of the highest states that is affected by lung cancer. It is the fifth highest state in the country. And that makes it the highest affected in New England," says Dr. Antoine Harb.

Dr. Harb is an oncologist at Eastern Maine Medical Center's Cancer Care Center in Brewer.

"We have about 250,000 people who are diagnosed with cancer in this country, so that makes lung cancer the most commonly diagnosed cancer every year. That's more than breast cancer, colon cancer. By far the deadliest cancer for men and for women."

Although the statistics may be overwhelming, Dr. Harb says advances in lung cancer are happening.

"Lung cancer and cancer research in general has had great strides over the last several years. And we've had great advances, specifically in the field of immunotherapy. But when it comes to lung cancer, there's always a stigma," says Dr. Harb.

Research for lung cancer and support for those with lung cancer. It's work that has become Deb's mission. That's why she was so afraid last summer when she was told a 9 millimeter mass was found in her left lung.

"And the only thing that I could personally think about was, what's going to happen to my foundation? Am I going to be able to continue working for my foundation? I continued all the way home thinking about that all the way home from Boston," she says.

This fall, she found out the mass dissolved, and her foundation work continues.

"It just gives me an opportunity to bring hope where there might not be any," she says.