When you think of country star, Kellie Pickler, you might think of her adorable introduction to the world by way of American Idol. Or her elegant turn on Dancing with the Stars that culminated in a mirror ball trophy.
And, obviously, her distinctive brand of country music in the vein of classic masters of twang like Loretta Lynn and Lorrie Morgan.
But this month, Pickler wants people to think of something entirely different when they think of her: lung cancer.
What is LUNG FORCE?
In honor of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, Pickler is raising her voice in support of a new national movement from the American Lung Association aimed at combating the disease.
Launched earlier this year, LUNG FORCE intends to act as a battle cry for women in the fight against lung cancer and for lung health.
And for Pickler, the cause truly hits home.
“I was 15 when my grandmother, Faye Pickler — she was the one I called Mom, she had a big part in raising me — was diagnosed with lung cancer, and she passed away the very next day after being diagnosed,” Pickler shared.
So, when the opportunity arose to work with the American Lung Association, Pickler describes feeling honored and touched to commit her time to the cause, saying, “It’s something very near and dear to my heart, and it makes you feel good to be a part of something that matters… something that has to do with helping lives and saving lives.”
The former roller-skating carhop from the small town of Albemarle, North Carolina, was surprised to learn, though, just how many lives are impacted by lung cancer — especially among women.
Why is it so imperative for women to get involved?
Did you know that lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer of women and kills almost twice as many women as any other cancers? Or that every eight minutes, a woman in the United States dies of lung cancer?
Neither did Kellie. Neither did we. And neither do nearly 80 percent of women.
According to a survey of over 1,000 American women 18 and over, lung cancer doesn’t even register on our collective radar. When asked to list cancers that affect women, only 1 percent of women cited lung cancer as top of mind.
“I had no idea that it was the No. 1 cancer killer for women in America. I was really shocked by that,” said Pickler. “I think just knowing these particular facts is very important so we are educated and we can learn more about this and raise money and awareness.”
That wasn’t the only statistic to throw the singer for a loop, however. Pickler was especially shocked to find out that lung cancer isn’t solely a smoker’s disease.
Forty-nine percent of women admit they don’t consider lung cancer a legitimate concern because they’ve either never smoked or have successfully quit. But this disease doesn’t discriminate. Says Pickler, “You could have never smoked a day in your life and still be diagnosed with lung cancer, because in so many cases, it’s hereditary.”
So, how do we change the popular perception that only smokers lose their lives to lung cancer?
How do we make a difference?
If you ask Pickler, a large part of the solution is starting a dialogue. “I think word of the mouth is a powerful thing,” she said with her signature drawl. “I think you just have to slap people with the facts and hope that wakes them up.”
We, as women, also need to acutely consider to whom we entrust our care.
“It’s important to have a good relationship with your doctor — someone you feel comfortable with and confident in their work and their ability to take care of you and your health — so that you can talk about these things with them and talk about getting screened,” Pickler explained, “especially if someone in your family history has been diagnosed with lung cancer.”
To Pickler, getting the word out about lung cancer is of the utmost importance, as it is often overlooked, while more mainstream causes (which Pickler is quick to point out are life-saving and important, too) often benefit from high-profile advocates and events.
“Like I said, I was shocked about lung cancer being the No. 1 cancer killer, even over breast cancer. We have breast cancer on our radar, which is great, but we also need to have this on our radar, too, so we can live and live happy and live long,” she said.
“We want there to be as many of these colored ribbons as there are of the pink ones out there. It’s time to learn about our bodies and our health and take care of each other and love one another.”