Breast Cancer Awareness, Day 24

Today’s post is from Lorraine Kerz. She lives in Greenfield Massachusetts. She is the founder of Sy’s Fund, a tribute fund to her son Silas “Sy” River Bennett. Sy’s Fund provides meaningful gifts and integrative therapies for young adults with cancer ages 18 through 39. It is a national fund.

In the autumn of 2007, my son Silas “Sy” River Bennett was not thinking about cancer. He had returned to college to study journalism, and with the presidential elections coming up, Silas was excited about meeting the candidates and asking the tough questions. In fact, he was due to graduate in the spring of 2008, and it was clear that he had found his calling with journalism. Outspoken and brave, with an electric mind and hilariously dry sense of humor, Silas was ready to take on the world.

He had been plagued by what he thought was a pinched nerve in his neck since early that summer; like many young adults, Silas did not have health insurance, so had put off seeing a doctor for financial reasons. Several weeks into the school semester, my son woke up one morning to find that he could no longer get out of bed on his own. He called for an ambulance, and was taken to the local ER. There, with one simple x-ray, Sy’s world was shattered. It was October 1st, four days before his 29th birthday, when Silas found out that cancer had eaten through a vertebra in his neck. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with non small cell adenocarcinoma lung cancer. The cancer had moved outside of his lung and spread to his bones, making it stage IV.

I cannot imagine getting such devastating news at the age of 29; the news that there was no cure, rather, that doctors would try to control the cancer for as long as they could. I do know that as a mom I felt that we had to fix it. After all, it was 2007, and with advancements in the medical world, it had to be possible. Little did I know then that Silas had been diagnosed with the most highly stigmatized and underfunded cancer possible.

Silas endured chemotherapy, radiation treatments, two separate surgeries to stabilize his neck, and a clinical trial. He was very sick, and was hospitalized more often than he was happy about. Silas fought hard, and he did everything within his power to stay on this earth for as long as he could. Yet on May 27th, 2008, less than 8 months after his cancer diagnosis, my beautiful son took his last breath.

When Silas was sick, we talked about the stigma and lack of education around lung cancer. We talked about helping people to understand “when he got better.” I had promised him that I would do my part to help spread awareness. In my mind, my son was the one standing beside me, doing the talking; he was, after all, the journalist… In my mind, Silas would get well again, and continue working for social change. After Sy’s death, I knew that this was a promise I had to keep for both of us now.

Some facts:
• Lung cancer is the number one adult cancer killer in the United States.
• Lung cancer kills more people each year than breast, prostate, colon, and melanoma cancers combined.
• 65% of new lung cancer cases are diagnosed in people who are former smokers, or who have never smoked.
• Over 50% of new lung cancer cases will be diagnosed at a very late stage.
• For each person who dies of breast cancer, over $26,000 will have been spent on research, while for each person who dies of lung cancer, a mere $1,200 will have been spent. (Lung cancer advocates do not want less money to be spent on other cancers; rather, we are looking for equal opportunity funding.)
• Lung cancer can be caused by radon, lead, chemical exposure, unknown pollutants, house fires, and there are possibly hormonal and genetic links as well.

Some people who get lung cancer are smokers, and some are not. I like to think that eventually we will evolve enough as a society to recognize that a person is far more than their nicotine habit, and that by virtue of being human, we are in fact imperfect. It’s time to get on with the important business of demanding funding for lung cancer research. It’s time to move on from the shame of lung cancer and recognize that each human life is precious, and that people we love will continue to die needlessly until we become a united voice for change. As Sy’s mom, I am heartbroken. Yet with Sy’s courage and ability to speak up for social change, I know that I must find courage of my own to speak for those who are no longer here, and to fight for those hundreds of thousands who will become victims of this horrific disease if we do not lend voice to ending the stigma and insist on funding for early detection, research, and cures. It’s not too much to ask for, truly, it isn’t…

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