In honor of Tonya, husband fights lung cancer

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By Jessica Doran

“Smoking kills.” It’s a typical phrase that has been ingrained in the minds of young and old people alike to denote that smoking causes lung cancer. This is very true, but it also causes people to be ignorant as to how lung cancer can affect even those who do not smoke, have never smoked or never even touched a cigarette. This is the case of Tonya Martinez-Hilton, who passed away in December after a battle with lung cancer.

Lung cancer kills 160,000 people a year, and what many do not realize is that these are more lives lost than due to breast, pancreatic and colon cancer. However, the quality of care for lung cancer patients is affected because of the smoking stigma. Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, but shortly behind it in causes are radon exposure and genetics. Radon accumulation in a house that rises above a certain level can reek havoc on a persons lungs without them even knowing.

The quality of care that is given to lung cancer patients suffers because it is assumed that they have done this to themselves. But even the effects of secondhand smoke from the previous generations can have damaging repercussions on anyone who comes into its path.

The bottom line is that lung cancer is very rarely caught and stopped in the early stages. It is often not detected until the later stages, when the tumor can have metastasized into a problem that is extremely difficult to eradicate because it has spread to other parts of the body.

Mike Hilton, Tonya’s husband, has made it a personal quest to not only extensively research everything about lung cancer, but to make it a goal that screening and proceedings for detecting the disease are found promptly.“My wife had a history of lung cancer, but no doctor ever asked her about it or made an effort to get anything checked out,” he said. Chest x-rays alone can detect only large masses, so by the time that is caught, the tumor has probably metastasized. Hilton hopes that CT scans become part of protocol for medical proceedings so that tumors are found early.

Hilton is involved with the Bonnie Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, based in California. They focus on fundraising and grants, and have their own medical research facility. He is their East Coast representative, and has already looked into instituting a program of early lung cancer screenings at Ellis Hospital.

“If we even had one program in Schenectady County, a test run of an early screening program, we could see how the numbers of lung cancers survivors would rise. Visible change could help us to spread the program,” he said.The foundation is also putting pressure on legislature, particularly the Lung Cancer Mortality Reduction Act, a bill that has not yet been passed but which serves to provide better guidance to medical professionals.

If this money is allocated properly, more funds can be used to support new-age treatments that have shown promise in recent years. Among these, there is new, targeted chemotherapy that affects the receptors within the tumor itself to stop it from growing. In addition to other drugs and vaccines that has been shown to increase life expectancy up to 44 months. Many of these are in the later stages of FDA approval.

However, above all, the future of lung cancer treatment lies in early detection and in stage one diagnosis. Hilton made it clear that he is hoping to see lung cancer treated as a manageable disease within the next few years.This is where he petitions to the Union community. There are many people on this campus involved in the pre-medical field, with a commitment to achieving true change.

“If they go into the medical field, this is what they need to focus on,” Hilton said. “Your generation are the minds of the future who are going to put horrible diseases like cancer to rest for good.”

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