Sellersburg resident Teresa Secor will soon be preparing for the ball, with a day filled with pampering, getting her hair just right and topping it off with the perfect outfit.
May 2 is the day for Secor to shine. It’s been nearly four years since her lung cancer diagnosis and now she will be honored as the James Graham Brown Cancer Center Champion at The Julep Ball, an annual fundraiser event that brings residents, business leaders and celebrities together to benefit the facility. A video will be shown during the event, telling Secor’s story to those in attendance.
Secor, 45, represents a unique crowd of lung cancer patients. She never smoked, had never been around second-hand smoke and didn’t have any of the other risk factors for the disease. However, during a CAT scan of her stomach to search for ulcers, doctors got a sneak peak of the cancer lurking in her lower lung. She immediately had surgery, removing the lower left half of her lung.
“The first thing I said when they said [you have lung cancer] is, ‘How can that be?’ I’ve never smoked. I’ll never forget it. I was totally blown away,” Secor said. “When I tell people that I had lung cancer, people would say, ‘Oh, you smoked,’ like I deserved it. It’s such a harsh disease, because it has that stigma to it, and it’s so not true.”
Secor is right. About 20 percent of women and 10 percent of men diagnosed with lung cancer do not have any of the risk factors, according to lung.org. It’s the number one cancer killer of all Americans, taking more lives than the next leading three cancers — colon, breast and prostate — combined, according to lung.org.
That’s part of the reason Secor was nominated for the Julep honor.
“We want to bring awareness that you don’t have to be a smoker to get lung cancer,” said Diane Warner, a registered nurse at the M. Krista Loyd Resource Center, who nominated Secor to be the Champion.
Secor volunteers at the resource center once a week. Warner said the center provides patients with a peaceful environment to learn about their diagnosis, have art/music/massage therapies, obtain wigs and more.
“[Secor is] just really amazing. She has a wonderful positive outlook and great faith. She’s wonderful with the patients,” Warner said. “We want hope to be shown. We want someone who is positive and can give that message to other people. Teresa does that all the time here and outside of the cancer center.”
“I think she’s earned her recognition. I’m proud of her,” said Nancy Alvey, lung cancer survivor and national patient advocate for the Lung Cancer Alliance. “She’s turned herself over to helping other people with the same disease. It’s not an easy diagnosis to deal with. I admit, I was a smoker, but she wasn’t a smoker and that’s a hard pill to swallow. She just wants to help other people.”
Michael Bousamra, who performed Secor’s surgery to remove her cancer, said she talked of volunteering early on.
“I’m very happy for her and very proud of her. She certainly deserves [being named Champion]. Here’s a woman who got a raw deal. She got lung cancer even though she was never a smoker, and she got it at a young age. She’s turned that into an effort to help people,” he said. “Early on after the surgery, she said she didn’t want to sit at home with her scar on her side. She wanted to go out and help people.”
Bousamra said for patients to be able to talk to someone who has had the same cancer and survived makes a difference.
“I think that when people are facing the very difficult and painful news, it helps to have someone who’s faced it too and came out OK. She’s a shining example that yes, you can beat cancer, and yes, you can get back to normal,” he said.
Secor has been cancer free since her operation in June of 2010.
“I feel just as good today as before [the diagnosis]. I really do. I feel like God really wants to use me as an instrument to get the word out about lung cancer,” Secor said.
The most important message she wants people to hear is to get screened.
“With any cancer, screenings are key. The earlier you find something, the greater your chances of survival,” Warner said. “You really need to know your own body and what’s normal for you. If you have symptoms that last two weeks or more, you really need to have those symptoms looked at.”
Though Secor didn’t smoke, Bousamra reminds people that smoking is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer.
“Don’t smoke. If you smoke, quit. If you don’t smoke, don’t start,” Bousamra said. “It’s really the big elephant in the room. Lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer of Americans. It kills more than the next four cancers put together. [However], in Teresa’s case, we don’t really know what caused it.”
“I hope what my story does is bring awareness to people whether you smoked or not, it’s there. It can happen to you. It’s a risk,” Secor said. “It’s not just a smokers’ disease.”
Secor’s excited for the chance to tell her story to all those attending the ball.
“I feel like I’m getting to go for all the patients I’ve gotten to meet and all those who have battled it,” Secor said. “I’m going for all the lung patients out there. I want to be a voice to be heard for everybody to bring awareness out there.”