Jerrold Dash, a 33-year-old staff systems engineer at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company’s Fort Worth, Texas, facility, never smoked a day in his life. Although he did buy a cigar in 1997 when he graduated from college,it was only ceremoniously lit and never inhaled. So in February 2006, doctors had no explanation for their diagnosis of his stage four lung cancer—bronchoalveolar carcinoma. All they knew for certain was that he had been repeatedly misdiagnosed with bronchitis, asthma and pneumonia for the last five years, and his chances of surviving another five years were slim.
“I never smoked,” said Dash, “and I have always taken good care of my health. I attended college on a football scholarship and have always been an athlete, so I never imagined that I would be battling lung cancer and praying for a bi-lateral lung transplant—but that is my life now.” Although the cause of his cancer is unconfirmed, Dash believes it most-likely resulted from the secondhand smoke he was exposed to during his childhood. Dash’s assumption is supported by studies on secondhand smoke. According to the American Cancer Society, “Studies have shown that secondhand smoke causes thousands of deaths each year from lung cancer and heart disease in healthy nonsmokers.”
Although Dash has never picked up a cigarette, he is now faced with a difficult set of circumstances a nonsmoker would never expect—he is living alone in Mountain View, California, away from his wife and two daughters, where he is receiving cancer treatment and awaiting a double-lung transplant. Stanford is one of a very few number of medical facilities in North America willing to perform lungs transplants on patients with lung cancer.
During the months of his miserable treatment, Dash has had a lot of time to think about his pending lung transplant. As Dash explained, “I have come to the realization that new lungs, barring any medical complications, can heal my body, but my mind will still need some work. I am not crazy or deranged; I am just mad as hell.”
“Having never smoked, I am mad as I fight to breathe and see smokers lighting up not caring where or in what direction their secondhand smoke goes. In California there is no smoking in restaurants or businesses, however that does not stop the smokers from lighting up right outside of entrances to such establishments. It physically hurts me to have to walk through this stuff, especially when I am walking through someone else’s smoke to get into the hospital for my cancer treatment.”
There are many reasons Dash supports Lockheed Martin’s new tobacco-free policy, and he is thankful that the company is getting the word out to employees about the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke. He wants people to hear his story, and to know from his experience how tough it is to fight cancer.
“Cancer stinks!” exclaimed Dash. “No one deserves it, but you can’t let it beat you—although the medicine will try. You have to fight for every breath because it is so precious. The doctors tell me I have cancer and looking at the x-rays and seeing the huge chemo port-a-cath that bulges from beneath the skin of my chest, I think they are half right with their diagnoses. I have cancer; but cancer doesn’t have me.”